Dr Tony Whitbread
There has been some confusion about Pondtail Wood – it looks like a plantation and yet we are calling it an ancient wood. So let’s see if we can clear this up.
First we must recognise that all ancient woodland has been managed – for many centuries. There is no such thing as a “natural” wood in England – we tend to call them “semi-natural”. Far from degrading their value, it is this very history that is a large part of the interest of ancient woods. It is possible to go into an ancient wood and “read” its history – not just natural history but human history as well. Part of this is planting in ancient woods, for convenience called Plantations on an Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). These vary from dense conifer plantations through to the occasional tree planted within the normal native mixture. The broad categories of ancient semi-natural and PAWS has been the accepted definition since before I wrote the first ancient woodland inventory for Sussex back in the 1980s.
Pondtail Wood has been largely replanted with Scots pine (native in Scotland, but not here in Sussex). In the short term their dense shade may sometimes reduce the wildlife value of the area but all woods (even semi-natural ones) are dynamic – they change through time with some phases being rich in wildlife, some being less so. A plantation on an ancient site can itself be rich in wildlife and can also develop back into its semi-natural state with a change of management. There are large areas of Sussex where responsible woodland owners are achieving just this. This rich mixture of different management types gives Sussex its rich landscape and diverse wildlife. So – Pondtail is a Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site. The ground flora may have been temporarily shaded out by the pines but if you want to see what it could look like with sensitive management then just walk 100m to the west and look at the wood next door!
Don’t let anyone tell you that Pondtail Wood is no good because it’s been replanted – that would just be a slap in the face for all the good woodland managers in Sussex who are managing their woods excellently!