Alice Holt Forest is located on the Hampshire/Surrey border. It covers 850 ha and its large size, variety of habitats and long history of active management combine to make it an important home for wildlife in an increasingly crowded countryside.
A small part of the forest is designated as a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its wildlife. However, today’s sustainable forest management ensures that the entire forest is managed with consideration for wildlife. In recent years the Forestry Commission has begun a major programme of ancient woodland restoration in which non-native trees are being removed (ancient woodland is woodland which has been present since at least 1600AD and in some places sites have been wooded since the end of the Ice Age).
Restoration is achieved either through gradual removal of a selection of trees within a woodland or by felling a whole section at once. Native trees including oak, ash and cherry are then allowed to grow up naturally or, in some places, trees are planted. They will be a valuable timber resource for future generations, at the same time as providing a home for wildlife. In the forest there are also small pockets of wet woodland which is a nationally important habitat that used to be far more widespread in lowland England. Forests support more that just woodland and comprise a mixture of wooded and open habitats. This is particularly evident at Alice Holt:
Important woodland features for wildlife at Alice Holt
- Ancient and veteran trees- a scarce feature in ancient woodland that provides old-growth habitat for a variety of declining species including wild bees and bats
- Deadwood provides a home for fungi, stag beetles and great crested newts
- Coppice woodland - parts of Alice Holt support areas of coppice that can be cut on a cycle to provide habitat for butterflies, dormice and woodland birds
- Wet woodland- a scarce habitat maintained by minimum intervention where natural processes can run their course
- Scrub and edge habitats- the variety of wildlife increases towards the edge where woodland and open habitats merge. Gradual transition from trees to open space provides better habitat for dormice, woodland birds, butterflies and bats
- Streams and open water- a diversity of water bodies provides important habitat for a variety of woodland and wetland wildlife
- Grassland and heathland
The extensive network of forest roads, paths and open space adds much to the diversity of the landscape and the range of wildlife habitat in the forest. For example, the nightjar is a bird of European importance which benefits from the open space provided by active forest management – though not native this habitat type adds to the landscape diversity and supports pine woodland birds such as crossbill and firecrest in addition to providing nesting habitat for a variety of birds of prey What to look out for?
Ancient woodland plants
Alice Holt Forest supports a variety of plants found only in ancient woodland such as Herb Paris and Wood Anemone.
A variety of bat species depend upon the variety of trees of different ages within the forest.
Alice Holt is home to a wide range of bird species that benefit from the variety of habitats including grey heron, lesser spotted woodpecker, nightjar and willow tit
Mammals small and large
Roe deer and muntjac deer feed on forest vegetation and their management is vital to ensure that native vegetation can flourish and abenefit other wildlife including the charismatic dormouse
Butterflies and moths
Timber harvesting and rideside vegetation management at Alice Holt Forest provide habitats for butterflies and moths. The purple emperor is the emblem of Alice Holt Forest and people travel from far and wide to see its courtship displays in summer
Amphibians and reptiles
The open spaces and wetter parts of Alice Holt are important for a variety of amphibians and reptiles. If you are lucky you might see a grass snake hunt for frogs in and around the forests streams and ponds
In the past woodland loss was deemed to be the most important threat to woodland wildlife but today neglect.or under-management are perhaps more serious concerns. Unlike in North America, much of Europe’s woodland wildlife has adapted to take advantage of human intervention in woodland and depends upon the woodland gaps and corridors created and maintained by it.
The challenge faced by the Forestry Commission and other woodland managers today is to help sustain woodland management which will benefit wildlife. By working together with partner organisations in Government and the voluntary sector we will continue to conserve and enhance the cherished wildlife legacy that is Alice Holt Forest and the wider public estate.