Ancient Woodlands are areas that are believed to have had a continuous woodland cover for at least 400 years and have higher nature conservation value than those that have developed recently.
They are home to many species of animals and plants some of which are very rare. Ancient Woodlands can be compared with the rainforests in the tropics as they are home to more rare and threatened species than any other habitat. Dormice, pied flycatchers, many fritillary butterflies and a long list of other species such as rare beetles, plants, mosses and invertebrates are found in Ancient Woodlands.
They may also have historical and archaeological significance because of low levels of disturbance and they can also be a source of inspiration for local culture and folklore. Ancient Woodlands are a finite resource which cannot increase so what remains is precious and irreplaceable and should be protected.
There are 95,000 hectares of Ancient Woodlands in Wales which represent 31% of all woodlands (total woodland area in Wales = 303,500 hectares).
Ancient Woodlands are identified in the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) which was updated in 2011
Ancient Woodlands are categorised in the AWI in the following ways:
- Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW) These are broadleaf woodlands comprising mainly native tree and shrub species which are believed to have been in existence for over 400 years. The ground vegetation will reflect the naturalness of these woodlands and will frequently feature species which provide clear indication of long and continued woodland cover. They will have been woodland for centuries and contribute substantially to our natural and cultural heritage.
- Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS) – These are sites which are believed to have been continuously wooded for over 400 years. They have been replanted with native or non-native species, most commonly with conifers. They currently have a canopy cover of more than 50% non-native conifer tree species. They will have varying levels of remnant features of ASNW.
- Restored Ancient Woodland Site (RAWS) – These are woodlands which are predominately broadleaves now and are believed to have been continually wooded for over 400 years. They will have gone through a phase when canopy cover will have been more than 50% non-native conifer tree species and now have a canopy cover of more than 50% broadleaf. Please note that the information sources do not identify whether broadleaved trees are site native and therefore an assumption has been made that they are native. The use of the term restored ancient woodland describes woodland which appears using remote sensing techniques to have returned to a more natural condition. The inventory designation does not mean that the woodland is fully restored or that it is in good ecological condition. Active restoration work may well be essential to consolidate the improvement in condition or to improve it further
- Ancient Woodland Site of unknown category (AWSU) - woodlands which may be ASNW, RAWS or PAWS. These areas are predominantly in transition where the existing tree cover is described as shrubs, young trees, felled or ground prepared for planting.