Woodland habitats, and ancient woodlands in particular, are among our richest terrestrial habitats in the UK. Most of our woodlands have been actively managed for hundreds if not thousands of years. The definition of ancient woodland is one that has been continually wooded (periodic cutting and clearance accepted) since 1600. Such woodland is more accurately referred to as ancient semi-natural woodland with the semi-natural tag acknowledging this history of management. Indeed it is likely that most of The Blean has been continually wooded for well over a thousand years if not much longer. One of the reasons lies in the London Clay giving rise to wet acidic soils and making The Blean less suitable for agriculture than the more fertile lands to the north and south.
The wealth of biodiversity and the landscape in which it is found exists because of the long history of woodland management. For centuries woodsmen created sunny glades and rides, and coupes or cants of different aged coppice while leaving other areas as open heathland or to grow on into mature high canopy woodland. Admittedly this latter was rarer in The Blean as the poor soils did not support the best timber trees. Instead good timber trees were left as standards interpersing the coppice.
The variety of woodland age and structure was able to support many different species of plants, fungi, invertebrates, birds and animals; each suited to their own particular niche which was always available somewhere. Following the decline of the coppice industry in the last half of the twentieth century biodiversity was under threat. Neglected coppice grew to shade out the woodland floor and give an even age structure across many woodlands across the south-east. In some areas of The Blean the trend for conifer plantations also caused the loss of coppiced woodland.
Partners of The Blean Initiative work to conserve the rich cultural heritage and biodiversity of this unique landscape. Active woodland management is the key.