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Lowland Wood Pasture and Parkland

Wood pasture and parkland generally consist of areas of grassland or heath with an open cover of mature trees. It is these mature trees (known as veteran trees) that form much of the interest of the habitat, although the associated areas of grassland and heath may also be of nature conservation value. Included within this habitat are medieval forests, wooded pastures and Victorian parks that contain older trees derived from an earlier landscape. It also includes undermanaged wood pastures containing veteran trees within a matrix of scrub and secondary woodland, and parkland that has been converted to other land uses but which still contains veteran trees of nature conservation interest. Parklands not supporting veteran trees are not included here.

Veteran trees may support populations of uncommon saproxylic (wood eating) invertebrates, lichens and fungi. They may also provide roost sites for bats and nest sites for birds.

Current status

There are no reliable estimates on the extent of this habitat within the UK, nor on its rate of loss or degradation. Wood pasture and parkland are most common in southern England but scattered examples occur throughout the country. The extent of this habitat within the North East is not known. A number of lowland parks occur within the Region which may contain veteran trees but these have not been surveyed and their value for nature conservation is unknown. For this reason no further information is provided.

Threats

  • Lack of a younger generation of trees is producing a skewed age structure, leading to breaks in continuity of dead wood and a loss of the specialised species that utilise the habitat.
  • Neglect, and loss of expertise in traditional tree management techniques (eg pollarding) leading to trees collapsing or being felled for safety reasons.
  • Loss of veteran trees through disease, physiological stress, and competition for resources with surrounding younger trees.
  • Removal of veteran trees and dead wood for safety reasons and for tidiness where sites have a high amenity value.
  • Changes to ground water levels leading to water stress and tree death.
  • Isolation and fragmentation of the remaining parklands and wood pasture sites.
  • Damage to trees and roots from soil compaction and soil erosion caused by trampling by livestock and people.
  • Pasture loss through conversion to arable and other land uses.
  • Pasture improvements through reseeding, deep ploughing, fertilizer and other chemical treatments, leading to root damage, damage to soil and loss of epiphytes.
  • Inappropriate grazing levels.
  • Pollution, eg air pollution affecting lichen communities.

Opportunities for protection and enhancement

  • Payments are available under Defra's Countryside Stewardship Scheme for the restoration of historic parks.
  • The development of an inventory of parklands/wood pastures of nature conservation value would allow sites to receive proper protection and benefit from the targeting of management actions.