Most typical of the north and west of the UK, upland mixed ashwoods are mainly found on alkaline soils over limestone. They are most frequent in upland areas, but can be found all the way down to sea level where conditions are right. Most upland mixed ashwoods are probably ancient, but ash is a tough and fast-growing species, and manages to colonise areas easily.
As the name suggests, the tall, broad trees of ash dominate the canopy of upland mixed ashwoods, but oak, birch, wych elm, small-leaved lime, rowan and yew may also be locally abundant. These trees allow plenty of light into the understorey, where hazel and other shrubs grow. Despite the variation in trees that make up these woods, the wildflowers found on the forest floor tend to be quite similar and include carpets of bluebells, dog’s mercury, primroses and garlic-smelling ramsons.
Where are they found?
Upland mixed ashwoods are found throughout upland UK: in the north-east they include the Angus glens, south-west examples include the Mendips, and they are typical of the limestone country of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s unclear what the total extent of upland mixed ashwoods is in the UK, but it is estimated to be about 67,500 hectares.
Why are they important?
Ash is a good forest tree as it lets light reach the woodland floor, allowing flowers to flourish such as wood crane’s-bill, wood avens and dog's mercury, alongside ferns like male and lady fern. One of the richest habitats for wildlife in the uplands, upland mixed ashwoods also support many rare flowers such as dark red helleborine, Jacob`s ladder, autumn crocus and whorled Solomon’s seal. Some rare native trees are found in these woods, too, notably large-leaved lime and various whitebeam species. The alkaline bark of old ash and elm supports an important lichen community.
Ash is an excellent tree for invertebrates, especially beetles and flies that love dead and decaying wood. Upland mixed ashwoods are particularly important for snails which get much-needed calcium for their shells from the mineral-rich soils. Where streams run through these woodlands, rare caddisflies can be found.
The dense and varied shrub layer found in many upland mixed ashwoods provides the protected hazel dormouse with food and shelter. And there is a wide variety of birdlife including warblers, flycatchers and redstarts.
These woods have also been useful for people as well as wildlife, providing coppiced wood for crafts and materials, or wood-pastures for grazing livestock, in the past.
Are they threatened?
Upland mixed ashwoods have declined in area by nearly 40% over the last 50 years. Typical threats include overgrazing by sheep and rabbits, and browsing by deer, resulting in a change in woodland structure. The invasion of non-native species like sycamore and beech has also caused much degradation, and Dutch elm disease has devastated native trees. Quarrying for limestone continues to threaten many sites, and the intensification of agricultural, including the increased use of fertilisers and the removal of trees to create bigger fields, has taken its toll. The abandonment of traditional woodland practices, such as coppicing, has led to a reduction in woodland diversity in some areas.
How are The Wildlife Trusts helping?
The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves sympathetically for all kinds of species. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive. We are also working closely with other landowners to promote wildlife-friendly and traditional practices in these areas.
What can I do to help?
- Take part in conservation measures on your land – ask your local Wildlife Trusts for advice on the management of woodland habitats.
- Support the work of The Wildlife Trusts protecting and restoring woodlands across the UK – become a member of your local Wildlife Trust.
- Volunteer with your local Wildlife Trust and help your local woodland wildlife; depending on where you live you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to raising awareness about woodland animals.