Woodland Wildlife

Exmoor has a high percentage of ancient semi-natural woodland (24%) in large stands compared to the rest of the country. There are also unique coastal woodlands, which extend to the shoreline in places, and a significant proportion of the UK's and world total of the remaining Atlantic oakwoods. Together with the moist, clean air and sheltered valleys, these factors combine to make Exmoor's ancient woodlands particularly rich in wildlife.

Many of Exmoor's woods are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and/or Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), whilst designated National Nature Reserves can be found at Horner, Hawkcombe and Tarr Steps Woods.

The woods are of particular interest for the range of lichens, mosses and bryophytes which thrive in the moist clean air, such as the four species of lungwort lichens (Lobaria spp).

The upland oak-woods are also an important habitat for woodland birds and particularly the specialist migratory species such as pied flycatchers or redstarts which arrive in the UK during the summer months. These species are showing an alarming decline nationally but are still frequent in Exmoor's oakwoods.

Some woodlands are even-aged and lacking in other native tree and shrub species whilst the character of others is changing through an increase in the dominance of species such as sweet chestnut and beech. There is some debate as to whether beech is native to Exmoor. It does not appear to have grown in the area before Roman times although it may naturally have colonised the area by now. While it is part of the landscape character of Exmoor, beech can cause problems for conservation by becoming over-dominant in woodlands and excluding other tree and shrub species.

Commercially managed forests on Exmoor have become important habitats for a wide range of birds with diverse ecological requirements. An important group of species that depends on young stages of growth includes, nightjar, woodlark, tree pipit, whinchat, grasshopper warbler and lesser redpoll.  Other 'conifer specialists' associated with mature stands include the rare goshawk and long-eared owl.