Kinds of woodland
It is traditional to describe woods in terms of the ‘dominant’ tree, the one or few species which, by their abundance or size determine the characteristics of that particular kind of woodland: for example ash woods, ash-hazel woods. Ash-maple-hazel woods, lime woods. For this purpose the underwood is of more significance than the timber trees, which are a relatively arbitrary and impermanent feature. Although almost all woods contain a scattering of oak trees, which are invariably treated as timber. This does not make every wood an oak wood.
Much of the variation in woods is natural and can be related to differences (which are often subtle) inor topography. Many woods are a complex patchwork or ‘mosaic’ of different kinds of woodland. In Suffolk and Essex, for instance, a wood of less than 10 acres may contain areas of ash-hazel, hornbeam, lime, cherry and elm.
Woodland is threatened chiefly by the extension of modern forestry, which turns wood into plantations, and agriculture, which destroys them altogether. In replanting a wood it is necessary to get rid of the indigenous trees and to prevent their regrowth from interfering with the planted trees. If successful—and the process is expensive and uncertain—the result destroys the character of a wood almost as completely as grubbing it out to make a field.
The destruction of secondary woodland can in theory be reversed, but once an ancient wood has been destroyed it is lost for ever. Between 1945 and 1975 at least a third of the ancient woodland area disappeared, a rate of destruction without precedent since the Norman Conquest. Since 1975 there has been less destruction, partly because there is less money to spend on it, but also because more people are coming to understand and appreciate woods and intend not merely to preserve them but restore them to their proper use.