Ecological change in British broadleaved woodland since 1947


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Over the last 60 years Britain's broadleaved woodlands have undergone a complex pattern of ecological change. The total extent has expanded from c. 676 000 ha in 1947 to c. 904 000 ha in 2002, but there has also been significant turnover, with losses of ancient woodland and a gain from new planting. Structural change has occurred due, in part, to change in management. In 1947 21% of the broadleaved resource was classed as coppice, 28% as scrub and only 51% of the area as high forest, compared with 97% high forest in 2002. This has been accompanied by changes in ground flora and the regeneration pattern of tree species, which will impact upon the character of the woodlands. Woods have also become more ecologically isolated because of the decline in semi-natural vegetation in the surrounding countryside, although the long-term impacts of this are poorly understood. Other factors driving ecological change are increased pollution, change in grazing pressures, climate change, alien species and game management. Overall woodland specialist species and those of open habitats tend to be doing less well than woodland generalists. Progress has been made in reversing some adverse impacts such as acid deposition, and action is being taken to reduce the impact of others such as over-grazing by deer. However, some drivers, notably climate change, will be more difficult to address. In the long term integrated management of woods as landscape components whilst meeting economic and societal needs will be required.