Ancient Woods Need Our Help

We are looking for remnants of ancient woodlands in the Scottish Borders. A healthy ancient woodland can support more species than any other land-based habitat in the UK. These irreplaceable woodlands have existed for hundreds of years but many of ours are undiscovered or under threat from invasive species, over-grazing and competition for land.

Why Do Ancient Woods Matter?

Ancient Woods:

  • are an important home to a diverse range of animals, birds, plants, fungi and invertebrate species. Many of these are our most threatened species such as red squirrels, hedgehogs, goshawks, willow tits, bats and rare woodland wildflowers.
  • are useful; they store carbon, clean our air and water and reduce flooding.
  • are beautiful! Carpets of wildflowers, gnarled trees, hairy lichens and colourful fungi are all things you might come across in an ancient woodland.
  • are irreplaceable; the immense biodiversity, complex ecosystems and undisturbed soils of ancient woodlands cannot be recreated. Many ancient woodland species never colonise new woodlands due to habitat fragmentation restricting their movement or because the soils have been altered irreversibly by agricultural practices.

The Scottish Borders was once cloaked in native woodland but this has been lost from our landscapes over the millennia. Our remaining ancient woodlands are now few in number, small in size and relatively isolated from each other.  It is important to know where they are and to manage them to safeguard their existence into the future. Working with Borders Forest Trust can make this happen.

Identifying Ancient Woodlands

Ancient woodlands can be identified by looking at historic maps. If a woodland shows up on the 1750 Roy military map or 1860 six inch OS map of Scotland then it is classed as ancient. These were some of the first accurate maps to include woodland cover. Artificial planting was not common practice before these dates and so any woodland showing on these maps is likely to be natural and to have existed for hundreds of years, possibly even since the last ice age 11,500 years ago! It is, however, important to recognise that mapping skills in those days were not always 100% accurate and so some woodlands may have been missed.

There are also clues to look out for when visiting a woodland that could let you know if its ancient. Tell-tale signs include: indicator woodland wildflowers; lots of fungi; lichens; mature, native trees; old, dead wood; features such as coppiced or pollarded trees and undisturbed soils. We can visit and survey any site for free to determine if it is an ancient woodland.

In some places, native trees have been felled and replaced with non-native trees. These plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) can be harder to identify but often some remnant features remain such as the ones mentioned above. Even in these, highly altered woodlands, many native woodland species still survive or their seeds remain dormant in the soil and so with careful management, these sites can be restored to their natural state.

Restoring Ancient Woodlands

The best approach to restoring an ancient woodland depends on its condition and the specific threats it faces. The Borders Forest Trust can visit a site to assess its needs and prepare management plans free of charge. We may also be able to assist with sourcing funding for the recommended work.  Some of the management methods that can help ancient woodlands recover, thrive or expand include:

  • removing livestock from ancient woodlands to allow ground flora to recover and to allow trees to regenerate. Often, ancient woodlands are dominated by very mature trees with no young trees to replace them when they die because grazing animals have eaten any regenerating trees. This means that these woodlands could be lost completely within just a few decades unless grazing pressure is reduced, at least for a short period to allow the next generation of trees to establish.
  • giving ancient woods space to grow: Many of our remnant ancient woodlands in the Scottish Borders are tiny clusters of just a few trees, yet they still contain many of the rare insects, fungi and flowers associated with these special habitats. We can allow these woodlands to grow and the rare species within then to thrive by giving them some space. This could involve fencing off an area adjacent to the wood to exclude livestock or deer,or simply leaving a piece of land unused to allow trees to naturally regenerate and the woodland to expand.
  • giving the woodland a boost by planting trees: Sometimes ancient woodlands struggle to regenerate because of dense ground vegetation that prevents seeds reaching the soil. We can give them a helping hand by planting native trees amongst or beside ancient woods to ensure there is a new generation.
  • removing invasive, non-native species such as Rhododendron. Rhododendron ponticum is an exotic species that was introduced to Scotland as a decorative plant in Victorian times. It may have pretty flowers but this hardy plant is a big threat to ancient woodland. It spreads vigorously and its dense, evergreen foliage shades out any competitors such as wild flowers and tree saplings, preventing natural regeneration and reducing biodiversity. Its toxic leaves also repel wildlife and it is known to be a carrier of tree diseases.

If you know of a woodland under threat, get in touch to find out how we can help:


This project is run in partnership with the Woodland Trust Scotland who generously fund and support our work to plant and protect native woodland in the Scottish Borders.