Upland wood pastures

Rowan air trees in Geltsdale's wood pasture, Cumbria

Upland wood pastures are largely in remote areas and until as recently as 2008 have not been officially recognised as distinctive habitats. Generally they tend to be cooler and more natural than their lowland counterparts. They contain many ancient trees, but they don't necessarily get to be the enormous sizes achieved in the lowlands, especially the oaks. Even so, as a rule they are rich in biodiversity, contain archaeology, and contain many old open grown trees which you can see have grown up in the presence of large grazers, particularly livestock. Here is the official wood pasture definition.

Air trees

Having been a tree detective over the years I've found all stages of air trees that are growing in the wood pasture of Geltsdale. They are mainly rowans growing in alders and with a bit of puzzling I've managed to put the whole story together. So at first a bird drops a rowan seed in the crook of an alder. Then the rowan takes water and nutrients sitting in the crook and uses that to grow into a seedling. The next stage is the amazing part, because at the same time as the alder is slowly hollowing due to great age, the rowan is able to send its roots into that hollow gathering its food and water along the way. Once the rowan roots have passed through the whole of the alder they finally reach the soil and can establish itself. Both rowan and alder grow together for many, many years in synergy, but eventually the rowan breaks through and gradually slithers of alder bark break off, finally to leave the rowan a bit shaped like an octopus. From the gallery below you can see that this process leaves very special trees, which need protecting.


Upland wood pastures need your help

Upland wood pastures in general are complex habitats and I've been working with Suzanne Perry of Natural England and John Smith of Mosaic Mapping to find a way to help people recognise them, so that they can be managed in such a way that they can continue to be a wood pasture long into the future. But to do that they'll first need to be recognised for what they are. We have therefore put together all the main features of an upland wood pasture in one single diagram, so that ideally it can be taken out in the field and used to give a score for each of these features. Together we've further written an article in Conservation Land Management giving more background.

Upland wood pasture model
Upland wood pasture model

Upland wood pastures are out there waiting to be discovered

If you want to have a go at finding beautiful ancient wood pasture sites in the uplands, with wonderfully shaped old gnarled trees covered in rare mosses and lichens, the autumn and winter months are ideal times to visit them, as the structure of the trees can be clearly seen when they have no leaves. Just make sure you take sensible precautions before you set off and that you have the owner's permission before you access any private land. If you're willing to help build up the upland wood pasture database then download the survey diagram, its explanation and scoring sheet.

Should you like more information then please contact me using the contact sheet of this website or my e-mail address at: iris@woodlandinspirations.eu. You can also e-mail me for wood pasture recognition training days. Initially these will be held in Geltsdale, Cumbria but with sufficient numbers these can be held in an upland wood pasture near you.

We look forward to receive your completed sheets and any feedback you may have through the contact page of this website. All your work will help to refine the survey format, facilitating the recording of upland wood pastures and thereby increase its recognition as an important habitat in the UK. Happy hunting!

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