Cheshire’s Ancient Woodland Inventory Update (AWIU)

What is ancient woodland?

Ancient woodland is woodland that has been wooded since 1600 AD. These are irreplaceable habitats that are important for wildlife, soils, carbon capture and storage, as well as recreation, health and wellbeing, and cultural and historical values. There are two distinct types of ancient woodland:

Ancient woodlands can be identified through map evidence, archaeological features and the botanical community present in the woodland, and many, but not all contain veteran and ancient trees

What is the Ancient Woodland Inventory?

The original Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) was originally published in 1988 by the Nature Conservancy Council. It identified and designated 244 sites of ancient woodland across Cheshire covering 1,681 hectares (excluding Halton). This was done prior to computer mapping but has since been digitised with amendments periodically being made.

Why does it need updating?

Since the creation of the original inventory, we have access to a greater number of resources and improved technology, meaning that previously unknown and currently undesignated areas of ancient woodland can be identified, designated and protected.

There have been changes to the requirements of the original inventory, one being the minimum size of a woodland. Previously this was 2 hectares however now any woodland greater than 0.25 hectares can be included, meaning that smaller fragmented, but still extremely important, woodlands can be included in the inventory.

Another difference is the addition of Wood Pasture and Parkland (WPP) habitats. Due to the low tree density these areas were not always shown as woodland on historical maps, however with a greater understanding of these habitats and their importance, as well as the ability to identify them, these too are being included on the updated AWI.

The process of updating the inventory is being completed for all counties across England, helping to protect these irreplaceable habitats.

What are we doing?

Phase 1 involved analysing map evidence across Cheshire to identify Long Established Woodlands (LEW). These are woodlands which are present on Epoch 1 maps and recent aerials. In Phase 2 these LEW were compared against the current AWI and woodlands which are LEW but not previously designated were identified as being potential ancient woodlands.

We are currently in the process of completing Phase 3 of the project, which involves analysing the woodlands highlighted in Phase 2 as being potentially ancient. This involves looking at a larger number of historical maps and collecting any other historical or present-day evidence to indicate their ancientness.

This phase will involve surveying many of these woodlands, looking at the flora present to identify if the community composition is indicative of an ancient woodland. Species we are looking for include carpets of native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Ramsons (Allium ursium) or Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) as well as rarer species including Herb paris (Paris quadrifolia) and Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria).

Archaeological features which may indicate disturbance as well as evidence of management will also be looked for, helping to build an evidence base for or against designation as an ancient woodland.

Can I help with the project?

We are currently looking for volunteers to help out with the project. There are two volunteer roles available:

Botanical Survey Volunteers

Photographic Volunteers

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