The Status of Britain's Ancient Woodlands

"News Currents," May 18, makes the following misleading reference: "Britain is losing its ancient woodlands faster than the rainforest is being felled in Brazil," and then quotes from figures produced by English Nature (the state body responsible for nature and conservation in England and Wales) that 45 percent of Britain's ancient woodlands have been destroyed in the last 50 years.

Until about 10 years ago, this may well have been the case, with woodlands being lost to agriculture, and ancient woodlands (defined as those being continuously wooded - i.e. never clearfelled - since at least 1600) being felled and replanted with fast-growing, nonnative conifer species. However, there has been a revolution in thinking with regard to forestry policy in Britain in the last five to 10 years, and the above situation has been reversed.

The Forestry Commission, Britain's forest service, has now switched its emphasis from producing commercial timber crops to managing and promoting the forest resource in order to encourage wildlife and public access. Recently split off from its commercial, timber-growing side, the new Forestry Authority controls and regulates all felling, thinning, and planting of trees in Britain's woods, and would not consent to any felling of broadleaved - and especially ancient - woodlands unless a corresponding area was restocked with site-native species.

The principal remaining threat to Britain's ancient woods comes from government road-building schemes, which are exempt from felling control. Jonathan Webb, Kent, England, Forestry/Woodlands Officer, The National Trust

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