Woodlands are an important part of our heritage, culture and biodiversity. After the glaciers had melted at the end of the last ice age, forests, first of birch, Scot’s pine and hazel then of oak and ash, began to cover most areas of Ireland.

Types of woodland

Native woodland is one that consists of trees, shrubs and associated plants that are considered to be naturally occurring. These woodlands can be classified as oak, mixed ash, wet woodland and lowland wood pasture and parkland. In Northern Ireland a mild moist climate favours broadleaf trees. Most broadleaf trees loose their leaves in winter and allow high levels of light to reach the woodland floor. This stimulates growth of woodland flowers such as primrose, wood sorrel and bluebell. Where woodland flora has developed over time it can create a carpet of blooms in spring which is one of the most amazing examples of nature’s beauty.

Ancient woodland

Ancient, semi natural woodlands are the most valued part of woodland for nature conservation as the plant and tree species have descended from the original native woodland. These woodlands can contain large trees, known as veterans, that may be several hundreds of years old and can be traced back to the original native woodlands. Species such as pedunculate and sessile oak, along with an understorey of hazel, wych elm and ash are usually present. The wildlife is usually richer than those newer established woods with an abundance of mosses, ferns, lichens and woodland birds.

Wet woodland

Wet woodland is a varied range of woodland and scrub that occurs on poorly drained or at least seasonally waterlogged soils. A lot of these woodlands are very young, but as they mature their species diversity increases with trees such as willow, alder, downy birch and occasionally ash and oak. Typical plants include yellow flag iris, marsh marigold, ferns and sedges along with some rare species such as elongated sedgeand large bitter-cress. Wet woodland can provide breeding sites for mammals such as the otter and the common pipistrelle bat alongside some species of breeding birds.

Lowland wood pasture and parkland

Lowland wood pasture and parkland is a very rare habitat in Northern Ireland. It is a special type of broad-leaved and mixed woodland on a large landscape scale and consists of generally scattered or individual trees, with surrounding land grazed by livestock. It is found mainly in demesne plantings and deer parks. Although many of these are in private ownership, some have been incorporated into urban parks for public recreation. This habitat is good for vertebrates and lower plants such as lichens, mosses, liverworts and fungi. Some rare native trees found in this habitat include whitebeam. There is a ground flora of spring-flowering herbs such as wood anemone, bluebell, primrose and ramsons (wild garlic).

Mixed ash woods

Mixed ashwoods are the predominant woodland type in Northern Ireland. Dependant on base rich soils, they range from woods on steep limestone scarps and screes, to more gentle slopes with deeper soils. Often very rich and colourful ground flora with bugle, bluebell and ferns. The main tree species are ash with locally dominant oak, downy birch and hazel but rowan is also found. Some woods have been colonised by sycamore and beech which are not native to Northern Ireland.

Oak woodland

Woodland dominated by oak trees naturally occur on moist free draining sites throughout Northern Ireland and would have been very common at one time. We know this by the name 'Derry', meaning oak, being a prefix to many place names here. Trees present include sessile and pedunculate oak, downy birch, holly, rowan and hazel. Bluebells can be found covering extensive areas alongside greater wood rush and bilberry. These woodlands are noted for the diversity and abundance of mosses, lichens, liverwort and fungi.

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