The History of Ancient Woodland

Speaker: Jonathon Huet
25th September

Jonathon and Liam before the talk

Jonathon and Liam before the talk


Jonathon Started his talk with a poem about woodland trees and plants and then went on then to entertain us with his passionate, fact filled, celebration of ancient woods.

He first explained that although we are the least wooded country in Europe our woods are internationally important and Havant is in the centre of these internationally important woods. An Ancient Woodland is defined as woodland dated before 1600, after that date more trees were planted which is unnatural as trees seed themselves.He described three aspects of our woodland:

  1. Planned Countryside, a strip through the centre of England, post enclosure.
  2. Upland Countryside in the Highlands of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall and Wales.
  3. Ancient Countryside on the Welsh Borders and the largest area in South East England including the Home Counties, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.

He told us about several ancient woods including Hatfield Forest near Braintree a wood pasture two miles square untouched since Mediaeval times with pollarded Hornbeams and coppiced areas. Nearer to home is the Mens, close to Petworth, a large wild area of ancient woodland in the Low Weald which goes back to Roman times and has 46,000 acres of coppiced wood and the remains of their iron works.

Closed still are West Dean woods, famous for their daffodils in March, Funtington for bluebells in the coppiced woods, Kingley Vale and it’s chalk downland flowers and ancient yew woodland, the most important in Europe with 2000 year old yews. Then there are Emsworth with its Hollybank woods, Stansted woods and Staunton Country Park, not forgetting the New Forest which was a hunting forest for our Kings. He went on to describe the meaning and importance of veteran trees. A tree in its middle age is at its zenith in life and obtains maximum income from its leaves. At 500 years old it is in decline but as Oliver Rackham says there is more benefit from a 500 year old tree than 100 lesser trees, because of its great age, size or condition, it is of exceptional cultural, landscape or nature conservation value.

Jonathon then went on to tell us about various aspects of woodland management in which he is involved, such as pollarding, coppicing, stripping and cutting down trees altogether for management purposes. The problem of ivy on trees was discussed and conservation, whether to plant new trees or not, as woodland regenerates naturally in about 30 years.

We then were taken on a virtual reality journey though time from the very cold eras of lowland deciduous woods to the start of ancient woods in around 1200 BC. Silver Birch is the first to colonise followed by Pine Trees, Hazel and Oak. He told us that 12 native species of trees dominate Britain. Then the problem of what is a native tree was discussed and the mystery of the Sycamore.

He finished off with a few words about the Wild Wood, which is rich in ecology, ancient trees, lichens, fallen trees and animals, wolves and wild boars for example. There is no virgin woodland left in Britain as man has been so actively managing the landscape.

Jonathon’s talk was stimulating and held our interest without a power point presentation, in fact he probably got through a lot more interesting stuff without it. Click here if you would like to visit Jonathon Hewitt’s Walk with Trees website

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