These are living relics of a past management system which have survived down the ages. Today these open grassland areas with interspersed mature native trees are a valuable wildlife habitat and a distinctive feature of the British landscape.
Wood-pasture is either:
- woodland which is or was always open to grazing by deer or livestock
- ancient pasture with trees.
© J. Jackson
Centuries ago, turning livestock out to feed on Commons and in the Hunting Forests, Parks and Chases was a widespread practice. In some sites it continues to the present day. The long-term impact of animals feeding, trampling and dunging created this special species-rich habitat.
Surviving deer parks provide good examples with their mature, open grown trees and no natural regeneration. In Medieval times, areas were enclosed to keep deer in for the owners to hunt, to provide fresh meat in winter and for their aesthetic value as part of the quintessential parkland landscape. At their peak about 1300, there were over 3,000 deer parks in the UK – mainly in England. There are under 300 now.
Other good examples of wood-pasture are in the former Royal Hunting Forests like the New, Epping or Hatfield.
Trees there were often managed by pollarding – beheading the trees 2-3 metres above ground but beyond the reach of hungry deer or livestock. Pollarding prolongs the lives of some species – many of the pollarded trees in wood-pastures are veterans, several hundred years old.
But to keep wood-pasture alive and well nowadays means continuing to manage them – by grazing the pasture, re-pollarding and planting or protecting self-sown saplings from the animals to provide the replacements when the old parent trees finally succumb.
In places such as Birklands in Sherwood, wood-pasture is being restored.
UK Habitat Action Plan for Lowland Wood-Pasture and Parkland”
. (1998). English Nature.