Sussex Woodlands

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Sussex Woodlands

1. Habitat Definition

"Woodland" is defined in English Nature's Phase I habitat survey handbook as vegetation dominated by trees more than 5m high when mature, forming a distinct, though sometimes open, canopy.

This definition, however, includes a great range of distinct types that may require separate description in order to derive meaningful action plans. Separate habitats which are relevant to Sussex are described below but superimposed on top of this are categorisations based on site age, broad composition and management type. For this the following definitions will be helpful:

Semi-natural woodland - Stands which do not obviously originate from planting. The distribution of species will generally reflect natural variations in the site. Mixed woodland is classified as semi-natural if the planted trees account for less than 30% of the canopy. Exceptions to this general rule include well-established sweet chestnut coppice, self-sown stands of non-native trees (for example sycamore) and woods that have been under-planted but where planted trees do not yet contribute to the canopy.

Plantation woodland - This comprises all obviously planted woodland of any age with the exception of those types mentioned above.

Broadleaved woodland - 10% or fewer conifer trees in the canopy. Yew and juniper contribute to the broadleaved component within the south east England context.

Coniferous woodland - 10% or less broadleaved trees in the canopy.

Mixed woodland - 10-90% of either broadleaved or conifer in the canopy.

Ancient woodland - Woods which have been under some form of continuous woodland cover since at least 1600 AD and have only been cleared for underwood or timber production

Recent woodland - Land which has not been continuously wooded after 1600 AD but which has acquired a tree cover on sites which may previously have been heathland, open fields or grazing land.

1.1 Woodland types

Biodiversity: the UK steering group report, volume 2. identifies woodland categories which provide the structure for the compilation of Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). These are adopted for the Sussex context below.

Lowland Beech Woods:

Stands of planted and semi-natural beech woodland span a variety of distinctive vegetation types, reflecting differences in soil and topographical conditions. In Sussex they occur most on the South Downs but beech woodland can also be found throughout the Weald often in association with other woodland types.

These woods have been managed, historically, as coppice, coppice with standards, high forest and minimum intervention. In Sussex the majority of stands have been managed as planted high forest, with fine examples in The West Dean estate in West Sussex and at Friston Forest in East. There are, however, some extremely important examples of near-natural beech woodland, where minimum intervention has been chosen as the preferred management option, at The Mens and Ebernoe Common near Petworth. 'Coppice with standards' beech woodland has probably always been rare in Sussex.

The main corresponding National Vegetation Classification (NVC) plant communities associated with this habitat type are W12, W14 and W15 (See Appendix 1). In the European CORINE system (Wyatt, 1988) these woods are simply classified as beech woods (code 41.1) but within this there are sub-categories which are more relevant to woodland types in Sussex. These are discussed in de Brou (1999) for the Normandy area, a location likely to have similar beech woodland to Sussex.

Broadleaved and Yew Woods:

This category covers a very broad range of woodland types in Sussex, from the ash - maple stands on the Downs to the mixed oak - hazel - hornbeam woods in the Weald and the more heathy oak - birch woods around Ashdown Forest and on the Greensand ridge. In terms of the NVC, these are classified W8, W10 and W16. In the European CORINE system these might be classified as oak-hornbeam forests, ash woods or as acidophilous oakwoods (codes 41.2, 41.3 and 41.5) (Wyatt, 1988). Yew stands are classified as W13 woodland. (See Appendix 1)

Most ancient woods in this category have a history of management as coppice with standards though many have now been converted, or developed naturally, into high forest or have been left (either by design or default) as minimum intervention.

This category covers a great deal of variety reflecting their physical structure in addition to their species composition. The following cases are worthy of special note:

Oak - hornbeam woods are a characteristic type of the South East, found on damp clayey soils. They often have a rich flora of spring-flowering herbs. NVC generally classifies these stands as the Anemone nemorosa sub-community of W8 and W10 woodland, indeed this is the classical woodland type of the Wealden clays, however, but there is much structural variation within these communities.

Gill woods are found in steep, narrow stream valleys. They have a damp, humid microclimate with a lower frost incidence than surrounding woodland. These are features of an 'Atlantic' micro-climate, reflecting the warm and moist Atlantic period approximately 7000 years ago. Today such conditions are not found elsewhere in eastern or central Britain. The moist oceanic microclimate is only found on the western seaboard of Britain but with a different geological and edaphic influence.

The flora found in these sites is therefore very characteristic of former Atlantic conditions - including lush growths of ferns (such as hay scented buckler fern), mosses and liverworts. Many are likely to be primary woodland sites (ie possibly dating from the ice-age) and some may have received relatively little management..

Sandrock outcrops are occasionally found within woods in the High Weald. This habitat is extremely rare on an international scale. The rocks act like a sponge, holding water and creating a damp and humid conditions, again an Atlantic micro-climate. This provides ideal conditions for a rare community of ferns, mosses and liverworts.

Woodland containing large leaved lime is an extremely rare type which, in Sussex, forms an intermediate type between the lime woods of the limestone in central/northern England and the lime woods of the Dordogne in France.

Chestnut coppice is fairly abundant, especially in the east of East Sussex, and is one of the few woodland types that is still occasionally under active coppice management. It is therefore of importance from a sustainable management perspective and for the general woodland species it supports.

Wet Woodlands

Wet woodland occurs on poorly drained or seasonally wet soils, usually with alder, birch and the willows as the predominant trees. It is scattered on the floodplains of Sussex but is more usually found in the higher catchments of river systems. Stands are often small, forming linear strips on alluvial soils alongside streams, but they can be more extensive where wooded valleys open out. Under NVC these are classified as W1, W2, W4, W5, W6 and W7 (Appendix 1). Black poplar is probably the rarest tree in Sussex, existing as scattered individuals rather than as part of a woodland type. It is possible that the woodland habitat in which black poplar would have been a constituent is now extinct in Sussex (and possibly in Britain). This habitat may have had similarities with woodlands classed today as W6 - woodland of nutrient rich alluvial valleys.

Planted Conifer Woods:

The south east of England has an equitable climate for the growth of trees, consequently there are some large forestry estates especially in the west of West Sussex. These are often mixed, resulting in more valuable wood for biodiversity but giving problems of definition! Common planted species include Scots pine, Corsican pine, Norway spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir and western red cedar. Though the tree composition may be significantly modified it is often still possible to recognize the basic woodland community, classifiable under the NVC. Planting has often taken place in a range of woodland communities but especially in W8, W10, W12, and W14 (Appendix 1).

Pasture Woodland:

The management of pasture woodlands is significantly different to other woodland types so will be the subject of a separate action plan.


2. Current Status and Distribution [top]

2.1 Status

Sussex is one of the most wooded parts of lowland Britain with the Weald having the greatest cover of woodland in Britain. Woodland and forests over 2ha in size currently cover 17.5% of Sussex (66,258 ha) (FC Census 1997) and, whilst this is well above the national average (about 9%); it is still poorly wooded in comparison with other parts of Europe. Ancient semi-natural woods cover about 6% of the county (about 22,000 ha), which is about 35% of the total woodland resource. Whilst this compares favourably with the rest of England, no single large block of ancient woodland now remains in Sussex.

The majority of woodlands in Sussex, some 41,000 ha, are commercial woods. Of these 14,000 ha have been replanted on ancient woodland sites with non-native trees. The remaining 27,000 ha are woods which have been planted, or which have regenerated, on sites that were not previously wooded. The Forestry Commission (Forest Enterprise) practises commercial forestry notably at St Leonard's Forest near Crawley and at Friston Forest near Eastbourne and there are large private woodland estates for instance the West Dean, Stansted, Paddockhurst, Leconfield and Cowdray estates.

2.2 Distribution

Different patterns of woodland distribution around East and West Sussex correspond well with English Nature's Natural Areas.

The Coastal Plain: The coastal plain is a particularly poorly wooded part of Sussex. This is because of the long history of the area as an important agricultural area. Soils tend to be highly productive and easily cultivatable, especially in comparison to some other parts of Sussex, so most of the woodland cover was removed at a very early time. By the time the Romans left Britain it is likely that the landscape looked very much as it does now. Today there are just a few examples of large woods in the coastal plain. Prime examples include Park wood at Chichester Harbour, Binstead Woods near Arundel and Titnor/Highdown woods near Worthing. These woods are predominantly oak - hazel woods with some stands of planted chestnut. Most of these are ancient wood, still consisting mainly of semi-natural vegetation. Historically they have been managed as hazel coppice although many have now been promoted to high forest.

The South Downs: Woodlands show a different distribution pattern when comparing the eastern Downs to the western Downs:

The Eastern Downs are generally poorly wooded with just a few large woods. The vast majority are recent woods, either planted or naturally regenerated. Friston Forest is one of the largest planted woods on the eastern Downs, consisting mostly of beech and pine. Elsewhere are extensive sycamore and ash woods, such as those around Eastbourne. These recent woods are not as valuable as ancient woodland but they often contain open habitat communities in rides and along glades that have now become rare in the agricultural land outside woods.

The Western Downs are much more heavily wooded reflecting a difference in landscape history when compared to the east. There is also considerable variation in the woodland habitat here. Ancient woods on the clay cap on top of the Downs have neutral soils, unlike the calcareous soils of the chalk. They tend to consist predominantly of oak - hazel woods. Good examples can be found at Clapham woods near Worthing. Much of the scarp slope which has been left ungrazed for significant periods now have a woodland cover dominated by sycamore and ash with beech in some places. Some of these woods, although open grazing land at some time, are now very long-established (perhaps many centuries) and are developing characteristics of ancient woodland. Where true ancient woodland exists on the scarp slope a richer mixture of trees may be found, including ash, beech, maple, wych elm and whitebeam. Amongst these ancient woods are a few locations of large-leaved lime. Rook Clift is perhaps the finest example of this woodland type in Sussex. Huge areas of the western Downs, however, are covered in commercial plantations of pine and beech. Most of these have been planted on former open downland though many ancient woods within the forestry estates have also been converted to plantations. These estates generally have a long history of sustainable woodland management.

The High Weald: This is the most wooded natural area in England (Reid et. al., 1996). Historically the area has always been difficult to work, with unyielding agricultural land whereas the woods have been valuable as a resource to the iron smelting and glass making industries, or have been used as wood-pasture (depending on the period in history). The Wealden iron industry is probably the major historical reason for the conservation of such a large area as woodland. For centuries the woods were used to make charcoal to fire the furnaces so, to achieve this in the long term, the woods were managed on a long-term sustainable basis in order to continually provide the needed raw materials.

This history not only provided for the conservation of the woods but has also accounted for the presence of other features (eg. Hammer ponds, charcoal hearths and iron-stone workings.).The predominant woodland type here is oak - hornbeam. However, management systems have changed in the last century or two. As a result chestnut coppice is now much more common, especially in the East, and many woods have been converted, or allowed to develop, into high forest. Particularly important woodland features found in the High Weald include Gill woodland and Sandrock outcrops.

In addition there are many 'Veteran Trees' found in the High Weald and throughout Sussex. Such trees may be many centuries old and are found in Parklands (refer to the Sussex Parkland and pasture-woodland HAP for more details) as well as along property boundaries, roadsides and Sussex woodlands with a favourable management history.

The Low Weald: The Low Weald has a fairly extensive woodland cover, much of it being ancient semi-natural woodland. These generally consist of oak - hazel woods with some hornbeam, often with some of the finest displays of spring flowering plants in Britain. In a narrow band by the South Downs the woods become enriched by downwash from the chalk so tend to contain more plants of lime rich conditions - maple and dogs mercury for example. Gill woodlands are also abundant in the Low Weald throughout Sussex and the adjoining counties of Kent and Surrey.

There is a broad zone in the West Sussex Low Weald that is more densely wooded than to the east. Many of these woods are relict pasture woodland, old common land which possibly always had some level of woodland cover but where woodland has become more dense since grazing ceased. The Mens nature reserve is perhaps the best example of this woodland type. This, and similar areas, are now developing into a near-natural or old-growth forest where natural processes rather than management is the dominant causal factor of woodland structure.

As with the High Weald, the Low Weald also contains an extensive network of old hedgerows and wooded shaws. Most of these are probably ancient, resulting from a strip of woodland left between fields when they were originally cut from the wildwood. Hedgerows and shaws are therefore an important part of the woodland heritage of Sussex and are covered in a separate Action Plan.

The Wealden Greensand: The greensand ridge curves around the western edge of Sussex forming a band of acidic heathy soils. Open heathland is generally the key habitat in this area and much of the current woodland has established recently following the cessation of grazing on old heaths. Most woods are therefore recent oak - birch woods over a heathy ground flora, but are generally of lower ecological, landscape and historical value than the heath they replaced. Pine woodlands, either plantations or naturally regenerated, also cover significant areas of previous heathland. A major invasive species in these woods is Rhododendron. This grows well on these soils and forms a dense canopy excluding almost all other species where it grows.

There are, however, valuable ancient woods in this area, including for example Rake Hanger on the border with Hampshire. These have a more long-established woodland ground flora and include trees such as sessile oak.

3. Importance of the habitat [top]

Despite being one of the least well-wooded countries in Europe, Britain's woods are often structurally diverse and are rich in uncommon or notable species. The varied climate and geology in Britain, combined with past treatment provides a woodland habitat which is often rich at a small-scale. This variety has repercussions in terms of the occurrence of species of conservation concern.

Woodland communities in Sussex reflect the national picture. Geology is varied over a small distance and variations in local climate provide warm, humid Atlantic conditions in one location but with hot, dry continental conditions only a short distance away. In Sussex we have particularly good examples of relatively common woodland types, such as oak-hornbeam woods with a rich ground flora including bluebell and wood anemone, as well as types which are nationally uncommon, such as the woods with large-leaved lime on the South Downs. We also have examples of woodland types which are internationally rare, such as gill and sandrock woodland, and which are located further south and east than their nearest relatives. A complex woodland history has also resulted in great structural variety in woodlands including locations with old and dead trees and consequently a particularly rich invertebrate and epiphyte community.

Woodland is also the most extensive semi-natural habitat in the county. Overall woodland covers some 17% of the county, but in some locations in the Weald the figure goes up to nearer 30% of the land surface. Considering that much of this is ancient in origin, and so of particularly high nature conservation value, it is clear that woodland is a particularly important vegetation type in Sussex.

Broadleaved woodland, as a broad habitat, contains a higher number of priority UK Biodiversity Action Plan species than any other habitat. About 115 priority species (out of a total of 523) are found in either broadleaved woodland as a general category or in one of the priority woodland sub-categories (including, for example, wet woodland and wood-pasture). Sussex woodlands provide important habitats for a number of priority species. These include; dormouse, pearl bordered fritillary butterfly and the black-headed cardinal beetle. These species have been selected as examples because they generally require quite different conditions in woodland:

Dormouse. This species requires shrubby regrowth usually at sub-canopy height in order to thrive. Within this it requires a level of structural and floral diversity which enable it to find food plants, nesting sites etc. Viable populations generally need contiguous woodland over 20 ha in extent. The dormouse's large-scale habitat requirements are shared with an ancient landscape community of species of high conservation priority.

Pearl bordered fritillary. As with many insects, this species requires open, sunny gaps within woodland with a diversity of flowering plant re-growth in the field layer. Such conditions are often associated with coppiced areas, woodland rides or areas of small-scale clear fell and require a dynamic woodland environment, with gaps being continually created and re-growing. This is an example of a "gap-phase" woodland species, a group which includes many species of conservation concern that require ancient habitat.

In due course other biodiversity species may be added as woodland indicators in Sussex to assist with this action plan, for example:

Black-headed cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa coccinea). This is an insect species associated with veteran trees and old growth woodland. Enhancement of the habitat for this species might improve conditions, generally, for wood-boring species generally - a group containing species which are often uncommon and, because of the lack of old trees in woodland, occasionally extinction prone.

Improvement in the population levels of all these species might together indicate improving structural diversity of woodland at a regional scale rather than at the scale of an individual site. Their requirements should be taken into account during implementation of this plan.

4. Importance for people, Local Community and Cultural Significance

There is increasing evidence of the wide range of benefits that trees and woodlands provide for people. In an urban environment trees can save up to 10% of energy consumption through their moderation of the local climate. They also stabilise the soil, prevent erosion, reduce the effects of air pollution and storm-water run-off and aid land reclamation. Trees have a positive impact on the incidence of asthma, skin cancer and stress-related illness. They filter pollution from the air - in Chicago for instance trees have been shown to remove over 10 tonnes of damaging particulates every day, while in Nottingham it is thought that trees reduce the concentration of sulphur and nitrogen dioxides by up to 5%. The passive benefits of a well-treed landscape are indicated, for example, by the increased rate of recovery of hospital patients who have a window view of greenery rather than buildings.

English woodland has been compared to cathedrals both in terms of the intuitive feelings when walking through an oak or beech wood in spring or summer and also in terms of the great age and perceived permanence they inspire. These very subjective aspects were most clearly manifested in October 1987, following 'The Great Storm' that threw many large old trees to the ground in England. People swiftly responded by donating their time and money to assist woodland organisations in addressing the damage. In cultural terms the 1987 storm had a strong impact on central and local government through initiatives such as 'Task Force Trees'. More recently the Forestry Commission has been financially supporting woodland creation and enhancement through their Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) and Woodland Improvement Grants (WIGs).

In landscape terms trees and woodlands are particularly important to local people with views forcefully expressed when a woodland is threatened, such as at Binstead Woods by the proposed Arundel bypass. Even more recent 'secondary' growth is valued; for example through opposition to heathland restoration following a lack of several years or decades of active management, and more recently in an attempt to restore Downland at Offham near Lewes in 1997. (National Urban Forestry Unit, 1998).

5. Benefits to Local Business [top]

Historically Sussex woodlands, as with woodlands in the neighbouring counties, have been an important source of employment for rural markets. Iron and glass production were historically important industries in the Weald, and this would have required huge areas of well-managed coppice woodland in order to produce the charcoal required to fire the furnaces. English oak was favoured for building houses and warships alike. The economic demand for English hardwood timber is currently low, although with improved quality and infrastructure this could improve, yet there is still a strong feeling of attachment to woodlands by many people in Britain. Consequently there is a resurgence in interest in promoting a sustainable woodland industry in the county based on hardwood management. For example, a woodland management centre is about to open in Flimwell, East Sussex, which aims to reconnect wood users with wood producers in order to promote the industry.

In addition there is a thriving plantation forestry industry centred on the large forestry estates mostly in the west of West Sussex. Though perhaps small in comparison to the huge conifer plantations in upland Britain, these estates do provide local employment and enhance the local economy using management approaches which are generally in tune with environmental objectives.

As woodland is so abundant in Sussex, it is a key attribute that helps to determine the environmental quality of the area that has a direct influence on the economy of Sussex. One of the key reasons given by businesses for establishing in Sussex is the pleasantness of the environment, so trees and woodland are key ingredients in the establishment and retention of high quality business in the county. In this way trees help to create jobs, encourage inward investment and they can also increase property values by up to 18% (National Urban Forestry Unit, 1998).


6. Trends and Threats [top]

The FC census of 1947, 1980 and 1997 identify the following trends in woodland:

1947 1980 1997
Increase in woodland

% cover


16.2 16.5 18.8
Increase in broadleaved woods
Conifer area - hectares 3420 15523 9251

Broadleaved area - hectares


12691 29442 36763
Change from coppice to high forest
Coppice area - hectares 28289 8856 4583
High forest area - hectares 19785 44965 54741

English Nature's Ancient Woodland Inventory identifies the following changes in the ancient woodland habitat:

Loss of ancient semi-natural woodland (asnw)
· asnw in mid 1980's - 21596 ha
· loss since 1930's - 3000 ha
(but probably relatively little loss in the last 10 years)

It is also apparent from information on other habitats that woodland is spreading on other habitats, for example:
· Downland - 50% of loss of chalk grassland in the last 20 years was due to scrub invasion.
· Heathland - planting and natural regeneration of pine, and the spread of scrub
· Internal woodland habitats - loss of rides, glades, patches of heath

The extent of woodland in Sussex is increasing. Some of this is to be welcomed but much (such as the spread of scrub on Downland grassland and Sussex heaths of high ecological quality) is causing environmental degradation.

On the other hand there is a longer-term loss of ancient semi-natural woodland. Ancient woodland is essentially an irreplaceable resource on human timescales. In ecological terms the loss of ancient woodland is not compensated for by the expansion of more recent woodland. In the last 60 years about 8% (3,000 ha) of the ancient woodland have been grubbed out altogether, replanting with conifers has degraded a further 36% (14,000 ha). Though reduced in their ecological value, replanted ancient woods often retain some wildlife value and it may be possible to restore these to semi-natural condition in the long term.

To summarise, therefore the main trends in the woodland habitat are as follows:
· Woodland extent is increasing, often at the expense of ecologically valuable unwooded habitats
· There is an increase in the amount of broadleaved woodland being planted
· There is a decrease in the amount of conifer woodland being planted
· The area of coppice is reducing whilst area of high forest (including managed, unmanaged and coppice which has grown into high forest) is increasing
· Much woodland remains unmanaged
· There is a continuing trend of a lack of incentives for management - timber markets are limited and woods are mainly unprofitable.
· Only a relatively small proportion of timber used in the region comes from local sources.

7. Potential

Recreating ancient woodland on any meaningful timescale is impossible. However, it is possible to restore ancient sites that have been degraded through neglect. The conservation value of ancient semi-natural woods (as with all woods) can readily be enhanced through sympathetic management. This may be based on a system of small-scale cutting to produce open-canopy high forest with various patches of growth and regeneration.

Coppice woodland that has been neglected for a few decades can be restored by the careful reintroduction of a coppice cycle. The species associated with open, dynamic woodland, which may have become rare as a result of neglect, may then be able to spread or recolonise the site. The success of the coppice work undertaken by volunteers on the Sussex Wildlife Trust's West Dean Woods Reserve is evidence of just how much can be achieved.

However, this approach will be very site dependent as restoration may not always be appropriate, especially on sites that have been neglected for a long period. These woods may no longer have the wildlife that relies on coppicing and may be unlikely to regain it if coppicing is reinstated. These woods are best converted to high forest with a coppice or shrub understory rather than treated as traditional coppice with standards. Where there are remnants of "old growth" woodland within coppices, these should be retained. Furthermore, Forestry Commission statistics indicate that, despite the desirability of traditional management methods, it is clear that a traditional coppice with standards cycle is unlikely to become the predominant management system in previously coppiced woods. It may be that other forms of management may have to be adopted which produce the occasional openings in the canopy required by many of our woodland species, previously provided by a coppice cycle.

Much of the ecological interest may remain in replanted sites so there is potential for restoring broadleaved woodland on some replanted ancient sites. A variety of approaches could achieve restoration, ranging from changing to native broadleaves when the current crop of conifers matures and is harvested through to the progressive thinning of conifer/broadleaved mixtures to favour the broadleaved element. Again this will be very site dependent. Conversion to broadleaves may be beneficial where the conifer crop did not establish well, whilst, alternatively, many mixed conifer/broadleaf woods have developed their own rich biodiversity so restoration may not be worthwhile. Conversion back to semi-natural condition often yields the greatest benefits, but conversion to native broadleaved species, ride management, maintaining belts of broadleaves and the promotion of openings in conifer stands may all give ecological benefits.

In some locations restoration to a non-woodland habitat will be desirable to achieve biodiversity targets. A key example is heathland. The removal of a conifer crop at the end of the rotation may allow an opportunity to restore heathland. However, on many sites the heathland habitat is fairly dynamic and often scattered throughout a forestry plantation (for example in St Leonard's Forest). In these situations it may be possible to restore the heathland interest of the site by introducing a lag of a few years between the time of felling and the following replanting. This would allow time for temporary heathland regeneration. If this happened in all clear-fell coups throughout the forestry estate, the result would be a matrix of patches of heathland regeneration within the forestry complex, possibly connected by longer-term heathland habitat in rides and glades. This latter option may be more sustainable than the creation of permanent expanses of heathland. It is difficult to achieve long-term management of heathland, but if heathland matrices are created within economic forestry operations then heathland may have a greater chance of long term survival.

Sandrocks that are receiving intense management, often in private gardens, do sometimes retain their ecological interest. Elsewhere careful management may be needed to restore their value. A main problem, however, is lack of information. Regeneration of trees and shrubs is normal in woodlands and it seems unlikely that this alone could cause the long-term degradation of a site. Research is needed in order to understand how this habitat survives natural regeneration of the trees around it and this should guide management principles. It may be that the habitat experiences routine population fluctuations in relation to natural regeneration. If this is the case then there may be some potential for habitat restoration with appropriate management.

Forest habitat networks, functioning as near-natural systems rather than through intense management, could be created in Sussex. In the Weald of West Sussex there are clusters of old well-wooded commons which have received very little management in the recent past. The most well-known examples of these are Ebernoe Common and The Mens near Petworth. These are developing towards "old growth" forest, a mature forest system where most of the variety is determined by natural processes rather than human management. They are of international importance for their wildlife and have the potential to form the core of a large near-natural forest. Some of the land between these old woods is of low agricultural value and forest re-creation could be an appropriate alternative land use. There may also be similar opportunities in the Weald in East Sussex.

New planting can restore and enhance existing woods of all types by creating interconnectedness, increasing the critical size of woods to create a more viable habitat for key species. The Wealden woodland context is probably unique in England in providing a matrix of closely juxtaposed small and medium sized woodlands (mostly ancient) that were, in relatively recent times, part of a single woodland block. Many of these woodlands are still partially connected by shaws and hedgerows. The close proximity of so much ancient semi-natural woodland to more recent woodland facilitates colonisation by otherwise immobile species and blurs the distinction between ancient and secondary woodland. (This does not, of course, undermine the historical and cultural irreplaceability of true ancient woodland). There is therefore a great deal of potential for enhancing woodland in Sussex through relatively small areas of new planting which could greatly enhance the functional connectedness between woods and produce substantially larger habitat blocks.

Considerable areas of land are likely to come out of agriculture over the next 50 years. The Government have recently published a White Paper on Rural England suggesting an aspirational target of doubling woodland in England over the next half century. There is an acknowledged need to increase timber production. Britain currently imports 85% of its timber and even in well-wooded Sussex only a small proportion of commercial timber comes from sustainable local sources. Sustainable woodland management here could have considerable environmental benefits by reducing the use of ecologically damaging imports. There is therefore potential to expand commercial forestry especially on land coming out of productive agriculture. Ideally this should include planting on some of the high quality agricultural land.

There will need to be incentives to encourage the planting of forests and to recognise the long-term environmental benefits of woodland. The acceptance of woodland planting against set-aside targets is a useful first step showing the future direction of policy. Maximum environmental benefit will occur if forestry planting takes place on land which has previously been in intensive arable or short-term grassland use. The expansion of current woodland blocks and the linking of existing ancient woodland by new belts and shaws would be particularly valuable. The re-creation of riverine woodlands, a habitat type missing from most of the English lowlands, would be particularly valuable. Wet woodlands of willow, alder and black poplar could be planted on former arable and intensive grassland sites in our wetland systems.

In summary, there is great potential for enhancing the woodland habitat in Sussex. Some of this potential is relatively general (such as new planting) as long as the proper checks and balances are in place. Much, however, is very site dependent (such as coppice restoration and conversion of conifer woods to semi-natural condition). The general targets detailed below represent the order of magnitude of changes that could be achieved, but the value of achievement will be critically linked to the specifics of a particular site.

8. Current Action [top]

National guidance.
The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) has published 'A Strategy for Sustainable Development for the United Kingdom' (May 1999) which provides strategic directions for wildlife protection and enhancement, and for the UK forests and woodlands. This talks also about integrating sustainable timber production with recreation, tourism and conservation. On ancient and semi-natural woodlands, the government aims to halt the decline in their area and reduce the degree of fragmentation seen over past decades. The area of UK woodland, ancient semi-natural woodland area and sustainable management are explicitly stated as 'indicators' appropriate to the SD strategy.

Protective policies in Local and Structure plans
Under Circular 27/87 and more recently following guidance in Policy and Planning Guidance note No. 9 on Nature Conservation, local and strategic authorities in Sussex have all introduced policies in their Local and Structure Plans that offer some degree of protection to ancient woodland.

Planning consultation zones.
In March 1999 Circular 9/95 was amended to include the Forestry Commission as a 'non-statutory consultee' on planning applications potentially affecting ancient woodlands. Proposals which affect ancient semi-natural woodlands and ancient replanted woodlands, as recorded on EN's provisional inventory of ancient woodland, would fall within the potential area for consultation with FC and it will be instructive to see the extent of the likely impacts over time.

FC policy
It is FC policy that areas that are currently woodland are expected to remain so. As a result felling licences are generally only granted on the condition that the area concerned is either replanted or allowed to regenerate naturally.

England Forestry Strategy, 1999. (EFS)
The EFS outlines the current view on the role of forestry in England. This is now very much focussed on multiple objectives, encompassing rural development, economic regeneration, recreation, access, tourism, the environment and conservation. The strategy will be achieved through better targeting of resources, to focus on areas of greatest opportunity and need. Thus the aim is to better utilise public, and other funds, to achieve greatest public benefit.

The UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS)
It is becoming increasingly important for purchasers of timber and wood produce to feel confident that material they are buying was grown or managed in an environmentally sustainable way. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is essentially the international organisation that certifies timber as being from sustainable sources. In Britain, however, this is done through the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS). This is a standard agreed by the UK Forestry Community, facilitated by the Forestry Commission and confirmed by the FSC.

Forest Enterprise's Strategic Plan for the South East.
The South East is a very well-wooded regional and FE only control a relatively small proportion of the forests, nevertheless they are important woodland owners and managers whose activities are highly influential. This document describes how FE will manage the woods in its care. It sets out priorities for four key areas of activity, consistent with the England Forestry Strategy: recreation, nature conservation, rural development and economic development.

County Woodland Strategies.
As woodland is such a major issue in both East and West Sussex, both County Councils have prepared County Woodland Strategies. These followed the major growth in interest in woodland after the 1987 storm and so their main emphasis was on landscape restoration. They provide an excellent tool for defining a menu of options for enhancement for landscape units that are recognisable to people on the ground and have been used for the targeting of advice and grant aid. Work in county woodland strategies continues to develop. For example East Sussex are in the process of revising their strategy and West Sussex County Council have developed the thinking into a wider landscape assessment.

9. Existing Financial Incentive Measures [top]

The Forestry Commission administers the key grant schemes that provide financial incentives for woodland planting and management. The two main grants are the Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) which pays for both planting and management and the Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG) which is targeted on particular themes including public access, neglected woodland and biodiversity. Grant schemes are now discretionary, using a clear points system to provide a measure of the public benefit resulting from a proposal. Contribution to the actions in a Biodiversity Action Plan is one of the criteria in the points system.

10 Objectives

a) Maintain the existing area of ancient semi-natural woodland.

b) Achieve favourable condition in woodlands through appropriate management.

c) Restore a proportion of replanted ancient woodland to semi-natural condition.

d) Restore gill woods and sandrock outcrops to enhance their conservation value.

e) Expand the area of new native woods:
· In locations which will deliver the greatest ecological gains and which do not cause damage to existing interest (examples might be locations which fill gaps, form linkages between existing woods and which recreate rare woodland types, for example riverine woodland).
· In locations which enhance the near-natural functioning of the forest matrix at a landscape scale (this requires an approach based on the interconnectedness of woodland, volume of habitat and structural diversity within an area).

f) Ensure woodland and forestry management fully considers non-wooded habitats.

g) Re-create at least one large near-natural woodland in Sussex using the 'Forest Habitat Network' principles currently being developed.

h) Expand the area of commercial plantation on agriculturally productive land and where it will not cause damage to existing ecological, landscape or archaeological interest.

i) Enhance the economic viability of woodlands managed with conservation objectives

j) Increase the amount of locally grown timber in order to substitute for less environmentally sensitive imports of timber and to substitute for other less environmentally sensitive materials.

11 Targets [top]

(To meet Objective)


1 Maintain the existing area of ancient semi-natural woodland. (a)


2 Initiate measures to achieve favourable conservation status in 100% of woodland within SSSIs and Special Areas of Conservation, and in 80% of the total resource by 2004 (b)
3 Achieve favourable conservation status in over 70% of the designated sites and 50% of the total woodland resource by 2010.
Such measures to include: (b)
· 25% of previously coppiced woods brought back into coppice management (b)
· 25% of neglected coppice woods to be brought under environmentally beneficial forms of high forest management. (b)
· Achieve favourable conservation status in 80% of gill woods and sandrock outcrops by 2010. (d)


4 Restore 10% of the former areas of ancient sites that have been substantially replanted with conifers in the last 50 years or that are currently dominated by other non-native species by 2010. (c)
5 Restore other key habitats that have become colonised by trees (see other Habitat Action Plans for detail). For example in forestry plantations on heathy soils, a delay in the management cycle, between clear felling and replanting would allow a patchwork of heathland regeneration throughout the forest as a whole. (f)


6 Initiate colonisation and/or planting of woodland on unwooded or ex-plantation sites to increase the extent of woodland by 10%. Complete establishment of half of this by 2010 and all of it by 2015. Expansion plans to include the following elements: (e,g,h)
· The creation of a large near-natural forest of 10,000 ha in extent by 2050
· Riverine forests of black poplar and other appropriate species in appropriate flood plain locations.
· Woodland belts, shaws and expansions to improve the interconnectedness and ecological functioning of woodlands particularly in the Weald of Sussex.
· High quality commercial plantations in appropriate locations.

Global biodiversity objectives

7 Increase the proportion of locally produced timber used in Sussex (i,j)
8 Increase the use of local timber as an alternative to less environmentally sensitive materials or processes. (i,j)

11a Costs

The following costs have been estimated based on the grants available at present. Costs are based on the assumption that targets will be achieved through the payment of grants in order to achieve the outputs. This is not always the case as many actions take place independently of grants paid. Also these costs do not take account of funds saved through land use change. As an extreme example take the planting of a near natural forest on 1,500 ha of land. If this was done on previous arable land then the costs of arable area payments would be saved. Assuming arable area payments of, on average, £200 per year per hectare for 50 years this would be a cost of £15,000,000 to the exchequer that would be saved by converting to a near-natural forest.

Costs given below therefore represent a very high estimate, without consideration of potential savings to the exchequer.

Target Area
Unit cost or grant Total / £
3 Ancient semi natural woodland managed with conservation objectives,
approximate yearly cost after 2010, assuming 50% target achieved using management grants
11,000 Management grant - £35 per ha 385,000
4 10% planted ancient woodland back to semi-natural.
Total cost by 2010
1,400 Planting grant - £1,050 - 1,350 per ha 1,470,000 to 1,890,000
3 Restore sandrock sites
Total cost for target
70 sites > £10,000 per site 700,000
3 Gill wood management 1,000 small sites Part of (1),
3 Woodland management plans
Estimated yearly cost
C 100 ha per year Assume £250 per 20 ha woodland unit. 1,250
6 New native woods
Total cost for target by 2015
5,000 Planting grant, £1,050 - 1,350
per ha
5,260,000 to 6,750,000
6 New near-natural woodland
Total cost of target by 2050
1,500 Purchase (assume £2000 per ha)
3,000,000 total

1,575,000 total

Based on:
· Planting grants:
<10 ha - £700 per ha for conifers. £1350 per ha for broadleaves
>10 ha - £700 per ha for conifers. £1050 per ha for broadleaves.
· Better land supplement: £600 per ha
· Community woodland supplement: £950 per ha
· Locational supplement: £600 per ha
· Short rotation coppice: £600 per ha. £400 on set aside
· Restocking: £325 per ha for conifers. £525 per ha for broadleaves
· Management grant: £35 per ha per year.
Woodland improvement grant ?
· No current grant for management plans, but when previously introduced the rate paid was £100 as a contribution per plan. For this purpose we have estimated the sum of £250 per 20 ha unit as a reasonable contribution to management plans.

12 Action Plan

13 References [top]

Biodiversity Steering Group. 1995. Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, Volume 2: Action Plans. HMSO. London.

de Brou, F. 1999. Un Guide de Reconnaissance et de Gestion des Milieux Remarquables pour la Seine-Maritime et la Haute-Normandie. Centre Régional de la Propriété Forestière de Normandie.

Department of the Environment. 1994. Policy and Planning Guidance note No. 9: Nature Conservation. HMSO. London.

Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions. 1999. Sustainable Development - 'A better quality of life: A strategy for Sustainable Development in the United Kingdom'. DETR . London.

East Sussex Woodland Forum. 1990. Trees and Woodland in East Sussex. East Sussex County Council.

English Nature Natural Area Profiles. 1997:
The High Weald
The South Downs
The Low Weald and Pevensey
The Wealden Greensand
The South Coast Plain and Hampshire Lowlands
English Nature. Peterborough.

Forestry Commission. 1947, 1980 and 1997. Census of trees and woodlands. Forestry Commission. Edinburgh.

Forestry Commission, (undated). Strategic Plan for Forest Enterprise's South East England Forest District.

Forestry Commission/Countryside Commission. 1996. Woodland Creation: Needs and Opportunities in the English Countryside. (CCP 507)

National Urban Forestry Unit. 1998. Trees Matter! The benefits of trees and woods in towns. Published by London Electricity, the National Urban Forestry Unit, Trees for London and The Countryside Commission.

Reid C M, Kirby K J and Cooke R, 1996. A preliminary assessment of woodland conservation in England by Natural Area, English Nature, Peterborough

Rodwell, J S 1991. British Plan Communities. Volume 1, woodlands and scrub. UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). Cambridge University Press.

Simonson, W and Thomas, R. 1999. Biodiversity: Making the Links. English Nature, Peterborough.

Sussex Wildlife Trust. 1996. Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex. Sussex Wildlife Trust. Henfield.

The UKWAS Steering Group. 2000. The UK Woodland Assurance Scheme; Guide to Certification. F G Smith & Son.

The UKWAS Steering Group. 2000. Certification Standard for the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme. F G Smith & Son.

Wyatt, B K. 1988. CORINE Biotopes project: An Inventory of Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation in the European Community. Technical Handbook Volume 1. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology. Bangor.

14 Consultation

Information on the progress of the Sussex Woodland Biodiversity Action Plan was circulated to the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership members on a regular basis.

David Saunders (ESCC County Woodland Officer) and Julie Robson (WSCC Woodland Officer) kindly provided membership lists for their respective Country woodland advisory groups. Tony Whitbread and John Patmore invited these groups plus their local contacts to a discussion seminar at Haywards Heath (13 April 2000) to initiate feedback and participation in the HAP development. The individuals invited to this seminar, or invited to comment in other ways are listed below.

Mr H. Barnes-Moss, Planning Officer, Worthing Borough Council
Jill Barton, Surrey Wildlife Trust
Alan Betts, The Forestry Commission
John Biron, Country Landowners' Association
Nigel Blandford, County Woodland Officer, Surrey County Council
Peter Brown, West Sussex County Council
Victoria Bull, Planning

Appendices [top]

Appendix 1

Key woodland types, classified under the National Vegetation Classification, noted in the Sussex Woodland Biodiversity Action Plan.

W1 Salix cinerea - Galium palustre Wet woodland on mineral soils
W2 Salix cinerea - Betula pubescens - Phragmites australis Wet woodland on peaty soils
W4 Betula pubescens - Molinia caerulea A community of moist moderately acidic soils.
W5 Alnus glutinosa - Carex paniculata A woodland of wet to waterlogged organic soils.
W6 Alnus glutinosa - Urtica dioica Wet woodland on nutrient rich soils
W7 Alnus glutinosa - Fraxinus excelsior - Lysimachia nemorum A woodland of wet, moderately base-rich mineral soils.
W8 Fraxinus excelsior - Acer campestre - Mercurialis perennis Mixed broadleaved woodland on alkaline soils
W10 Quercus robur - Pteridium aquilinum - Rubus fruticosus Mixed broadleaved woodland on neutral soils
W12 Fagus sylvatica - Mercurialis perennis Beech woodland on base-rich soils
W13 Taxus baccata Yew woodland
W14 Fagus sylvatica - Rubus fruticosus Beech woodland on neutral soils
W15 Fagus sylvatica - Deschampsia flexuosa. Beech woodland on acidic soils
W16 Quercus - Betula - Deschampsia flexuosa Mixed broadleaved woodland on acidic soils

Appendix 2

The following are targets from existing documents. These were not included in this biodiversity action plan but they give the background to targets proposed:

· Ensure that more than half of ancient woodlands (75 per cent by area) are managed to achieve conservation objectives.
· Replace non-native tree species on at least 50% of ancient replanted woodland sites to restore them to a semi-natural condition.
· Reverse the trend of degradation in sandrock outcrops and gill woodlands
· Ensure that 25% of coppice woodlands are in active coppice management. Target in particular those sites where coppicing has only lapsed in the last 40 years.
· Ensure that about 25% of neglected coppice woods are converted to environmentally beneficial forms of high-forest management
· Ensure conservation targets are a feature of all woodland business plans.
· Target 5,000 ha of arable and intensive grassland for the creation of new woodlands, including river valleys and sites to fill gaps between existing woodlands
· Ensure appropriate species composition of new native woodlands.
· Establish and agree a brief for the creation of a near-natural forest ecosystem in the Weald of Sussex
· Add 750 ha to existing woodland nature reserves in the Weald of West Sussex
· Convert 750 ha of farmland to native woodland in an area targeted to become a near-natural forest
· Develop a phased programme for the re-introduction of cattle, ponies and pigs for forest management and take appropriate action

· Maintain the existing areas of ancient semi-natural woodland.
· Initiate measures to achieve favourable conservation status in 100% of woodland within SSSIs and Special Areas of Conservation, and in 80% of the total resource by 2004, and achieve favourable condition over 70% of designated sites and 50% of the total resource by 2010.
· Restore around 10% of the former areas of ancient sites that have been substantially replanted with conifers in the last 50 years or that are currently dominated by other non-native species.
· Initiate colonization and/or planting of woodland on unwooded or ex-plantation sites to increase the extent of woodland by 10%. Complete establishment of half of this by 2010 and all of it by 2015.

· Maintain the extent and habitat quality, especially of ancient and semi-natural broadleaved woodland, and expand broadleaved woods, particularly with new native woodland which is linked to ancient and semi-natural woods.
· Promote the principle that new woodlands should be created through natural regeneration, unless the habitat to be colonised is itself of greater nature conservation significance than the new woodland. When planting is more appropriate, this should use local tree species. Also aim to improve structural diversity in woodlands, for example, by adding glades and rides.
· Promote sustainable management of Ancient Broadleaved Woodlands; through, for example, selective felling for specific markets and by encouraging links with modern markets.
· Convert conifer plantations to locally appropriate broadleaved woodland with a more varied woodland structure, but only where this will not restrict sympathetic woodland management elsewhere by the same landowner.
· Connect existing high quality woodlands to form a larger continuous woodland, maintained by natural processes.
· Increase the demand for woodland products and the area of woodland managed as coppice
· Support the Weald Woodnet as a practical and effective networking organisation.
· Produce accessible literature that clearly explains the value of traditional broadleaved woodland management. This should also be practical to land managers and list sources of advice, suitable contractors and potential grant aid
· Provide mechanisms to help clear rhododendron that has invaded important nature conservation habitats
· Manage deer populations to ensure that woodland damage is adequately controlled
· Maintain existing quantity of gill woodlands and enhance their quality for features of interest.
· Identify where the gill woodlands are located and recommend their optimum management for conservation. This will link to improving understanding of their historical management.
· Ensure future planting does not include conifers that may affect the gill.
· Clarify hydrological patterns and identify high pollution risk areas.
· Ensure pollution is prevented wherever possible
· Encourage planning departments to refuse planning permission for gill woodland development
· Maintain and enhance the dormouse populations in all the areas where they still occur. Contribute to national targets for restoring dormouse populations.
· The High Weald is one of the significant natural areas for dormice (Reid et. al. 1996). Clarify which woodlands are likely to hold them.
· Promote positive woodland management to favour dormice.
· Monitor changes in the Weald dormouse population
· Pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly Boloria euphrosyne : Enhance populations to form a sustainable population.
· Encourage extensive grazing regimes in acid grassland / bracken mosaics.
· Encourage sympathetic habitat management at all sites containing large or medium-sized colonies.
· Where feasible, encourage restoration of suitable habitats throughout the butterfly's potential range to aid national restoration programmes.
· Following feasibility assessments and habitat restoration, where necessary, seek to restore populations to at least three sites per previously occupied county in the Weald.
· Prevent further loss or damage, especially to yew woodland, western scarp slope woods
· Prevent neglect that can detract from their nature conservation value.
· Encourage and support appropriate management to maintain and enhance nature conservation value, including coppicing, high forest, glade and ride management
· Where it is not to the detriment of unimproved chalk grassland, encourage and support, where appropriate, the reversion of neighbouring habitats to woodland in order to enhance the nature conservation value of surviving fragments and, where possible, to establish links between such fragments.
· Ensure that owners and occupiers are informed of principles and practices for appropriate nature conservation management.
· Promote a market in local products from environmentally sound management of woodland
· Prevent further loss of and maintain all other semi-natural habitats in the Natural Area and enhance the most important and characteristic habitat types within it, including: ancient woodland, parkland and wood pasture, lakes and hammer ponds, acid grassland with bare sand and alluvial grazing meadows with wet ditches.
· Protect all remaining areas of semi-natural habitat from destruction through appropriate statutory or other designation and adoption of planning and other land use policies.
· Restore coppice management to those areas of semi-natural ancient woodland that still retain a clear coppice or coppice with standards structure
· Develop high forest management systems for other semi-natural ancient woodlands that conserve and enhance their ecological diversity and semi-natural character.
· Manage conifer plantations on ancient woodland sites to encourage natural regeneration of native trees and shrubs and the gradual removal of non-native conifers.
· Manage and restore ancient semi-natural woodlands by removing plantations of alien tree species, re-introducing coppice management to those woodlands that still retain a well defined coppice or coppice with standards structure and develop high forest management systems in other semi-natural ancient woodlands that conserves and enhances their ecological diversity and semi-natural character.
· To maintain and enhance the wildlife value of the wider countryside to retain the essential character of the Natural Area.
· Maintain, restore and where appropriate, create new wildlife habitats in the wider countryside in particular areas of semi-natural woodland.
· Promote management of plantations to create a diversity of woodland age and structure and maintain wide forest rides and tracks.
· Maintain populations of dormouse at optimum carrying capacity within areas of semi-natural woodland through appropriate coppice and high forest management practices.