Plantations on Ancient Woodlands

Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites are ancient semi natural woodlands (ASNW) that have been felled and replanted with other tree species, typically non-native ones such as spruce, fir and larch. Most PAWS conversions took place in the 20th century and occurred as a result of a national drive to produce more home grown timber. Having been involved in two world wars, successive UK governments wanted to decrease the country's reliance on foreign imports of all natural resources, including timber. Whilst this policy was entirely understandable, it resulted in a huge loss of ASNW.

Apart from the actual felling of the ASNW, the introduction of coniferous crops caused two problems. Firstly, the establishment process often involved large quantities of chemicals and ground preparation techniques like ploughing. These processes were extremely damaging to the ancient woodland ground flora and soil structure. The second problem is that commercially grown conifer crops cast very dense shade, particularly if they are not thinned regularly. Over the life of the crop any remnant native ground flora and any remaining broadleaved trees can be slowly shaded out, to the point where some PAWS can appear to be completely bereft of any of the original ancient woodland features.

Today, there are around 2100 hectares of PAWS in the greater Exmoor area – almost as much as there is ancient woodland (see map). The Exmoor Ancient Woodland Project was set up to enhance the quality of ancient semi natural woodlands which included PAWS sites. Although the project has now come to an end, its aims are still relevant and Exmoor National Park Authority is able to help and advise ancient woodland/PAWS owners and managers on how to manage and enhance their woodlands.