- The Native Woodland Group (2008) defines native woodland as ‘an area of woodland largely consisting of site native trees & shrubs, where an associated woodland flora is present or may develop over time’.
- Native woodland has become established in Northern Ireland due to the mild, moist conditions favouring growth of indigenous tree species.
- Through the process of succession, ecological communities undergo a series of change in composition & structure, resulting in the replacement of one community by another. This continues until a ‘climax community’ is attained.
- Woodland is a ‘climax community’ & changes at a slow rate even if it remains unmanaged. Although dominated by trees, all vegetation types may be included in woodland. Such habitats may be natural or as a result of tree planting.
- Two main types of woodland exist in the UK: Broadleaved, Mixed & Yew woodland and Coniferous woodland.
- Management changes have involved the replacement of broad-leaved trees by coniferous plantations in species-rich ancient woods. The woodland habitat is less affected by land-use changes than other types. Native woodland flora often survives in remaining remnants of broad-leaved vegetation.
- To be classified as a Priority Woodland Habitat the following criteria must be fulfilled:
– Woodland area of >0.5 hectares
– Canopy cover of >20% or the potential of achieving this by regeneration or newly planted woodland
– Canopy that comprises 50% or more of site-native trees or shrubs
– Presence of characteristic woodland ground flora (which may be under non-native tree species such as beech) [Source: DARD NI – Woodland Definitions Booklet]
- Native woodland in Northern Ireland incorporates four Priority Habitats classified by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan:
– Mixed Ashwood
– Wet Woodland
- Woodland in Northern Ireland has declined, with only 8.3% of land covered in woodland, which places Northern Ireland as the least wooded area in the European Union, other than Malta (Copper & McCann, 2002).
- The Countryside Survey (2007) reports that the land area of Broadleaved, Mixed & Yew Woodland has increased significantly from 4.5% (64,000 ha) to 5.8% (82, 000ha) land area in Northern Ireland. [Further information: Countryside Survey Results 2007 Chapter 6]
- Woodland habitats that remain in Northern Ireland are fragmented & referred to as ancient semi-natural woodland as ‘natural’ woodlands have been lost. As such fragments are a remaining record of Northern Ireland’s natural tree heritage & are of international importance due to their unique flora & fauna; they are protected through the designation of SACs, ASSIs, SPAs & NNRs.