Column: Woodland cannot be replaced
Lots of things are replaceable - even if it takes a long time to do it.
Given enough care and attention, many habitats can be nurtured back to a state of health.
The Trust for example, is restoring meadows at Woodhouse Washlands, moorland at Blacka Moor and has re-created wetlands at places like Kilnhurst Ings and Centenary Riverside (both Rotherham). Good quality restored habitat will burst with colour and teem with life including insects, birds, amphibians and mammals.
However, there is one habitat we can't restore once seriously degraded, and once its lost, its lost forever ; ancient woodlands.
As the name implies they are very old, taking thousands of years to grow and are much more than just old trees.
They are entire ecosystems with unique soils and special plant, animal and fungal communities that have developed over millennia; the woodland even creates its own cool, moist micro-climate. It all works as a harmonious whole but lose one element and the whole ecosystem can collapse.
Ancient woodland is irreplaceable; trees can be planted to create new woodlands but will not be ancient woodland due to damage done to soils and the slow dispersal and colonisation of ancient woodland species.
A single old oak tree can support over 350 other forms of life. If you cut down ancient woodland you can’t just plant another tree and say “well that’s just the same”.
It won’t - it can’t – support the same number and variety of species.
To make an analogy close to my heart, it would be like presenting someone with water, barley, and yeast and saying “that’s just as good as a 25 year old malt whisky”. Trust me, it isn’t even close.
Not to mention the majesty of venerable and ancient trees.
Sit under an old giant of a tree and it doesn’t take long before you start to wonder what it has seen. These trees were around at remarkable moments in history, surviving hurricane force storms and civil wars.
This is why we should cherish the few examples of ancient woodland which remain.
We are lucky enough to have several in South Yorkshire; there is evidence that Greno Woods has been playing a part in the local economy since 1600AD, and Smithy Wood dates back as far as 1200AD!
Our ancient woodlands are irreplaceable legacies that belong to all of us.
You can find out more about our ancient woodlands at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust