Wood pasture and parkland

Wood pasture and parkland

These areas have been created and managed by man over centuries, providing sheltered grazing pasture as well as firewood and leaves for forage. Grazing animals play an essential part in their maintenance.

What

Wood pasture and parkland are either grazed woodlands or scattered large, mature trees growing in grazed grassland or heathland. Grazing needs to be light enough to prevent damage to trees and to allow occasional regeneration, but heavy enough to prevent them turning to woodland.

The most important feature of wood pastures and parklands are the old veteran trees which can be centuries old. These trees, along with dead wood (both standing and fallen) support rich communities of fungi, lichens and specialist insects and are also home to birds and bats.

Wood pasture

Why

Wood pasture and parkland are rare and threatened habitats. Some of their trees are the oldest living organisms in the UK and provide a home for a large number of species, including fungi, lichens and invertebrates which live off dead and decaying wood. These habitats also provide very valuable nesting, roosting and foraging sites for bats and birds.

It is important to conserve the old veteran trees as these support rare invertebrates (including beetles, flies and spiders) and fungi such as bracket fungi, which live on dead or dying wood of standing or fallen trees. Other invertebrates use different parts of the trees including water-filled holes and sap runs. Stag beetles use rotten wood in tree stumps to breed, and a number of hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers use the old trees. Many other birds feed on the surrounding grasslands. Wood pasture and parkland are prime habitat for bats, with some of the UK’s rarest and most range restricted species such as the Bechstein’s bat and barbastelle using holes or crevices in old trees to roost in. More widespread species such as noctule and brown-long-eared bats also use these trees as a valuable roosting resource, whilst all bat species can use this habitat for feeding. Logs and deadwood is also a useful resource for amphibians, offering shelter/refuge and foraging areas, particularly when situated close to ponds.

Other habitats of wood pasture and parkland, including grasslands, ponds, scrub and taller grown patches of bramble and herbs support a much wider range of plants, fungi (for example wax caps) invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

vet trees

How

The priority for wood pasture and parkland is to conserve the veteran trees and associated deadwood (both standing and fallen) and protect them from damage by grazing animals, and from fertilisers and pesticide applications.

Management of Trees

Care needs to be taken if managing the trees for safety reasons. Experts are best called in to advise on works to the trees, taking into account protected species that may be using them. Old veteran trees should be maintained and allowed to age and die naturally, and as much deadwood as possible left standing or on the ground to slowly rot away. A long-term programme of planting young trees to become the veterans of the future should be put in place. Ivy is valuable for a range of species and should not be cut or removed from trees unless it is causing a problem for the species of special interest.

Fertiliser and other inputs

Agricultural practices such as fertiliser or herbicide applications should be kept away from roots and canopies of the trees. Ideally a buffer zone (wider than the overhanging tree canopy) should be used around trees and deadwood to prevent spray drift which could harm rare invertebrates and lichens, and to ensure fertilisers are not applied near tree roots. Fertilisers and herbicides should not be used on areas of grassland which have not previously undergone these agricultural practices as they will be damaging to plants, soil invertebrates, and soil fungi, including harming rare waxcap fungi which appear in autumn.

Grazing and cutting

Management is needed to prevent the land returning to woodland. Care must be taken to ensure grazing livestock do not cause disturbance to the bases of trees through trampling, rubbing or eating of bark. If winter grazing is required it is important to protect trees from grazing animals if they are likely to browse or bark strip trees.

Grazing or cutting should be managed to produce a range of grassland/heathland sward height and structure, including short grazed areas, small patches of bare soil, tightly grazed areas and some tussocks. This will provide habitat for a wide range of plants, fungi (for example wax caps) invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.

Flowers within the grasslands, along with those on flowering trees, scrub, ivy and taller grown weedy areas all provide valuable nectar sources for insects. Relaxing grazing or not cutting between April and September will help plants to flower which will benefit insect pollinators. Small patches of flowering scrub (such as hawthorn and blackthorn) will provide blossom for pollinators and will also provide useful nesting sites for songbirds and potentially shelter and overwintering sites for reptiles and amphibians.

Fencing off small areas from grazing to create some tall, flowery herbs, brambles and nettle beds will provide valuable food as well as nesting and shelter for invertebrates and reptiles. Any wetland features such as small ponds and their marginal vegetation should be maintained. Ideally avoid excessive trampling of water margins by stock and prevent livestock from polluting water through dunging.

A number of invertebrates live on dung and will be badly impacted if livestock are dosed with endectocides such as avermectin (see our advice sheet on this). This will not only impact the insects that are part of the breakdown process of dung but also the birds, bats and mammals feeding on them.

Common pipistrelle, pipistrellus pipistrellus

In practice

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