• IvyShepherd

On veteran trees to combat a loss of biodiversity

How ancient woodlands can help our native flora and fauna   

In the wake of the growing climate crisis, there is another crisis developing and coming up fast behind.

And that is the loss of our native biodiversity. Our native flora and fauna, our wildlife, fungi and plants, they are the very fabric and foundations of our environment and local ecosystems.

The loss of this native biodiversity could have a catastrophic impact on our lives. It might not seem like it, but if we don’t have bees and other pollinators, if we don’t have that vital pollination of plants, we simply could not survive.

One of the reasons we are seeing this biodiversity crisis is through the loss and destruction of many different habitats, and in particular, deforestation of woodlands.

So how can veteran trees and ancient woodland help to reduce the impacts faced by a loss of biodiversity?

Veteran trees are those bearing the scars of old age, such as decay or dead wood. This decay can lead to hollowing out of the trunk and this provides an essential habitat for many species. Sometimes the decay can be caused by the fruiting bodies of fungi, a symbiosis of species, and the natural dead wood also provides vital habitat.

Many species that depend on these dead and decaying processes of these wonderful trees would be lost.

Trees sequester carbon, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and global warming. Trees will naturally take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sequester it inside their wood, becoming carbon stores. As a result, they filter this harmful gas and produce clean oxygen back into the atmosphere.

And with large-scale deforestation, this sequestered harmful carbon is released back into the atmosphere. So, thank god for the trees.

But our tree cover is well below where it should be and to tackle the climate crisis, we will need to be planting trees on a massive scale.

So what of those existing trees, and particularly our ancient woodlands. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to protect these vital habitats?

Ancient woodlands are defined as areas that have continuously been wooded since the year 1600 or before. These woods would have developed naturally and would have formed a large part of the English landscape all those centuries ago.

They are irreplaceable, as they have formed over hundreds of years, and are massively important, in terms of providing habitats for rare species, carbon storage and for historical value.

Ancient woodlands are teeming with these veteran and ancient trees of all species, fungi and lichens, as well as an abundance of woodland-dwelling insects, plants and animals.

Where I live, I am bordered on one side by ancient woodland. It is an amazing place, full of trees, alive, dead or decaying, but all providing a natural and important habitat to those species that couldn’t live without it. Too special to lose.

These wonderfully rich and diverse ecosystems are so important to the survival of our native biodiversity and in turn, the growing climate crisis. Which is closer around the corner than we might like to think.


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