Upland Oakwood - Warwick Conway
Upland oakwoods occur in areas of high rainfall in the west and north of the UK. As its name suggests, our native pedunculate and sessile oaks dominate this habitat, which is usually found above 250 metres. Birch can also be seen in the canopy, and varying amounts of holly, rowan and hazel are the main understorey species. The ground may be covered with bracken, bilberry and wavy hair-grass, and many mosses and liverworts. Where the soils are richer, wildflowers like bluebells and shrubs like bramble are more common.
Although they are mainly found on acidic soils with few nutrients, most upland oakwoods contain areas of more alkaline soils, often along streams, where richer wildlife communities occur, with ash and elm in the canopy. Elsewhere, small alder stands or peaty hollows covered by bog mosses may appear.
Where are they found?
It’s thought that there are between about 70,000 and 100,000 hectares of upland oakwood in the UK. Major concentrations are found in Argyll and Lochaber, Cumbria, Gwynedd, Devon and Cornwall. Although similar woodland occurs on the continent, the UK's upland oakwoods are recognised as internationally important for their distinctive plant and animal communities.
Why are they important?
As well as being home to important populations of native oak, upland oakwoods also have rare species like wild service tree and small-leaved lime in their midst. The trunks and limbs of trees are often covered with rich gardens of mosses, ferns and lichens. The large and leafy lichen, tree lungwort, is found in quite a few ancient woods, while the grey-green string-of-sausages lichen (which only grows in very clean air) can be found draping itself over tree branches in massive garlands.
The woodland floor of upland oakwoods varies depending on the soils and grazing, but is characterised by mosses, great woodrush, ferns and bilberry on wetter soils, or by bracken and bramble on drier slopes. Where the soil is richer, spring flowers like wild daffodil, dog's mercury, enchanter`s nightshade or ramsons may form extensive splashes of colour. Heather, bilberry and mosses dominate on more acidic soils.
Upland oakwoods support a rich birdlife, with wood warbler, pied flycatcher and redstart all breeding and feeding in this habitat. Other frequent birds are raven, tree pipit, lesser-spotted woodpecker and buzzard. In Wales, upland oakwoods are the main breeding habitat of the red kite.
Insect life abounds in upland oakwoods with the rare blue ground-beetle living in the south-west, and the scarce chequered skipper butterfly making its home in Scotland. More commonly, nests of wood ants, and butterflies like speckled wood, silver-washed fritillary and white admiral can be seen.
Are they threatened?
Over the last 60 years, upland oakwoods have declined in area by almost 40% as a result of replanting (mainly with conifers), clearance for quarries and conversion to rough grazing. This precious habitat is threatened today by overgrazing, browsing by deer, invasive species like rhododendron, air pollution (which affects lichens in particular), poor management or neglect, and a decline in traditional management methods like coppicing for wood or bark.
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 Trust 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.