Ancient Woodland

Ancient Woodland
The Mens © Nigel Symington

By Glenn Norris

Reserves Ecologist

As an ecologist I often get stuck looking at the detail, but sometimes a different project will force me to take a step back and look at how the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves fit in to the landscape and realise that I’m the small one.

That is no more evident than when you’re standing in front of a tree trunk you could park a Smart Car in… and be able to open the doors. Then there’s the fact that even though I’ve been working at the Trust for over a year, I can still get lost in The Mens as easy as if it were the great Mirkwood.

Sussex has large areas of ancient woodland, ie woodland that has existed since at least 1600 CE, with some pre-existing this arbitrary benchmark. Sussex Wildlife Trust is lucky enough to manage a small part of this with our biggest at The Mens, Ebernoe Common, Woods Mill and Flatropers Wood.

These ancient woodlands are so important for Sussex, and nationally, for a number of reasons. One, which is my primary interest, is that they hold an extraordinary number of species. A single veteran Oak tree can support over 280 species of invertebrate, as well as providing microhabitat for epiphytic plants and nesting habitat for birds. And the majority of what’s recorded is from ground level, just imagine what’s not being recorded in the canopy.

The four ancient woodland reserves all feature in the top 10 for most species out of the SWT reserve network. Ebernoe Common has over 1000 species of fungi all to itself, each growing in, on and under the trees only showing themselves when the fruiting body emerges.

But what is becoming more important, as the climate crisis gathers pace, is their ability to capture carbon and lock it away for a significant amount of time. A study from 2009 estimated the current extent of woodland in Britain (13% of the land) contains 790 Megatons of carbon! Not only that but it’s adding another 15 Mt of CO2 every year. Whilst the numbers sound massive (literally), this represents a small amount of what can be achieved.

In times of chronic stress often induced by considering the current state of our planet then I would recommend visiting an ancient woodland as a tonic for improving your mental health. Although I can get distracted by the spider in the understorey or the Spotted Flycatcher showing off its aerobatics, there is something incredibly restorative from being in ancient woodland.

Whether it’s something scientific as you breathe in the pheromones or just the thought of the tree stood in front of you being there since the English Civil War and equally far in the future once you’ve gone, I don’t know. But what I do know is that when I leave, I have a sense of contentedness that wasn’t there before.

Ancient Woodland Appeal

We have an amazing opportunity to extend our nature reserve at Ebernoe Common, but we need to act now.

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