Changes in the ground flora in Wytham Woods, southern England from 1974 to 1991 – implications for nature conservation


  • Nomenclature: Stace (1991).


Abstract. The ground flora (vascular plants < 2 m high, excluding trees and shrubs) was recorded in 1974 and 1991 from 163 permanent 10 m x 10 m plots arranged on a systematic grid across Wytham Woods, near Oxford (UK). The Woods cover about 320 ha, are predominantly deciduous, but of varying ages and management types. The total number of species found (173, 167 respectively), the mean richness per plot (16.7, 17.2) and the breakdown of the species list between different species types (ancient woodland indicators, other woodland species, non-woodland species) showed no significant differences between 1974 and 1991, but mean ground cover declined from 80% to 64%. Ancient woodland indicators as a group showed less change between the years than species associated with the open glades and grassland patches in the wood. Some species increased in frequency across the woodland including Arum maculatum, Brachypodium sylvaticum, Deschampsia cespitosa and Poa trivialis; while others such as Ajugareptans, Angelica sylvestris and Circaea lutetiana declined. Mean cover of Rubus fruticosus per plot declined from 35% to 6% and of Mercurialis perennis from 32 to 24%. More species were lost from plantations than from semi-natural stands. The results are based on only two times, so inferences on possible causes must be drawn with caution. However the results are consistent with the effects of (1) the changing conditions associated with stand growth, particularly in the plantations, and (2) an increase in browsing/grazing by deer. No evidence was found for an effect of changing soil nitrogen levels on the vegetation. Changes in the ground flora as well as the woody layers, and in managed as well as unmanaged stands should be monitored, if nature conservation objectives are to be met.