UK: Ancient Tees Valley's ‘rainforest’ survey


The Forestry Commission is backing a root and branch survey to assess the condition of the Tees Valley’s precious ancient woodlands.

A grant of £4,000 has been made to the Tees Valley Biodiversity Partnership to undertake the task, which will take 18 months to complete and cover an area from Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland in the East to Stockton and Darlington in the west.

scientist recording trees in a woodlandDr Sue Antrobus of the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, in an ancient woodland near Roseberry Topping. All the Tees Valley's ancient woods are to be surveyed as part of a ground brreaking Forestry Commission backed initiative.

Now survey chiefs are asking for the co-operation of local landowners to grant access to their woods so a full assessment can be made. The study will include all sites over 2 hectares (5 acres) in size including those that have been replanted with non-native species. 

Ancient woods are defined as those which appear on the earliest reliable maps, which date to about 1600. In reality much of the area’s 1936 hectares (4840 acres)  of ancient woodland goes back much further in time and some may be the fragments of the great wildwood that covered England after the last Ice Age. 

Ecologically, they are amongst the most important of all habitats, supporting an incredible range of plants, insects and animals. 

Locally they include woods like Clarkson’s, and Rosecroft, at Loftus and Saltburn Gill at  Saltburn, and Thorpe Woods at Wynyard. Such beauty spots are characterised by trees including ash, oak, lime, birch, hazel and hawthorn and an associated rich ground flora,, with alder and willow species in wetter areas.  Rachel Sparks, from the Forestry Commission, said: "This is a key project for us and an important part of the Tees Valley's Biodiversity Habitat Action Plan for broad-leaved mixed woodland. We have supported a similar survey on the condition of ancient woodlands in Northumberland and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our ultimate aim is to have reliable data on the condition of all such habitats in the North East of England. That will give us a powerful tool so we can plan remedial action where required and have a benchmark to gauge progress.”

Dr Sue Antrobus, of the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, who will manage the project, added "there’s going to be a lot of leg work involved and the co-operation of landowners will be absolutely crucial in helping us achieve out aims.  If we find that the condition of a wood is unfavourable then that could open up grant aid from partners like the Forestry Commission, so it’s in everyone’s interest we get the survey underway.  It goes without saying that ancient woods are irreplaceable. They are the equivalent of the rainforests of the Amazon and once they are gone they are gone. That’s why it’s so important we take practical steps to ensure they are in good condition and benefiting from sustainable management. This survey is breaking new ground as nothing quite like it has been attempted before in the Tees Valley.”

Ancient woods provide the sole habitat for many animals and plants - indeed they have been described  as the UK's equivalent of the rainforest. Plants typical of such woods include bluebells and wood anemone –  both very good indicators that a site goes back many centuries. 

Experts say that other surveys in the region have found that overgrazing by sheep and deer and lack of management over many years are the main causes of ancient woodlands being in poor condition.

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