Wood pastures are complex habitats with many layers of interest: they are ancient, grazed, contain open grown trees, are managed by man and are important for biodiversity and products. Here is the official wood pasture definition.
Remnant wood pastures have invariably not been disturbed by ploughing and it is therefore fairly common to find archaeological remains within their boundaries. These are very wide ranging in shape and can inform us how people lived in the past. The archaeological remains together with 'worked' trees tell us that people have lived in harmony with their landscape.
Our ancestors knew how much grazing to allow for both their livestock and trees to thrive. We have almost lost this knowledge and need to re-learn these skills from both the archaeological findings and people still practicing the art of wood pasture management, whether in the UK or Europe. Woodland Inspirations has been at the forefront of this process and can apply the expertise gained to your wood pasture. Here we're in the process of building a barrier from sustainable materials (willow and hawthorn branches for weaving around hazel staves) to protect tree seedlings.
One of the important wood pasture features are its magnificent ancient trees. During their long lifespan they have withstood climate, animal grazing and man using their timber and have been shaped by all to become 'living green monuments'. In wood pastures you can find trees with basal swelling or 'skirt' caused by repeated grazing, fallen trees which are regrowing from the fallen stem, 'air' trees or epiphytic trees where one species of tree is growing inside another or trees which have developed strenghtening bars to help them withstand the weather. Then there are pollards and coppiced trees which are man made, but because these practices are now out of fashion, many of these trees have lapsed.
Because they are old, ancient trees provide excellent habitat for all sorts of wildlife. For instance one species of spider (Zygiella stroeni) depends on deep bark fissures to retreat into. Another (Midia midas) favours old birds nests or squirrel drey's. Another still (Meta bourneti) likes the dark damp place a hollow tree provides. Different lichens, mosses and other insects also depend on the special micro habitat an ancient tree provides and therefore many can't be found away from ancient wood pasture trees.
Like many other species, the rare black grouse is dependent on an intimate mix of habitats. They use open space to lek in, feed on birch buds and cotton grass in spring, use tall vegetation to nest in and let their young feed on insects near wet places. Woodlands provide them with shelter and berried trees with food to see them through the winter. They can thus thrive in wood pastures.
Management and products
Because wood pastures are so diverse, they also have the opportunity to provide a wide range of products.