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Ancient Woodland

Ancient woodland is a nationally important and threatened habitat, and its existence over hundreds of years has enabled irreplaceable ecological and historical features to survive.

Ancient woodland in England is defined by Natural England as an area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600AD. It includes plantations on ancient woodland sites.Bailey Wood

The landscapes of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty contain many ancient woodlands. Protecting and managing these extraordinary survivors is one of the most important conservation activities in the AONB. They are part of the wider woodland heritage of the AONB, which contains the most extensive area of native beech woodland in England and has protected woodlands, such as those at Bradenham and Ashridge, which are of international importance. This part of the country, perhaps unlike any other, has a deep rooted and ancient woodland culture.

How do you know you are in an ancient woodland? It is not always obvious, as some woods classified as ancient contain relatively young trees planted on a site that has been wooded for hundreds of years. However, there are some tell-tale signs. A real giveaway is carpets of bluebells in spring – these take hundreds of years to spread. Many other flowering plants are associated with ancient woodland, such as lily of the valley, violet helleborine and garlic-scented ramsoms. You can also spot evidence of the woods being used by people through the centuries, from boundary banks to the remains of sawpits used to cut up trees and deep holloways carved out by feet, hooves and cartwheels.

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey

The Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey was carried out between 2010 and 2012 in recognition of the importance of ancient woodlands and the deficiencies of the existing Ancient Woodland Inventory, which did not include small woodsWood Sorrel under 2 hectares.  

The new survey included woods under 2 hectares for the first time and used modern GIS mapping to revise the boundaries to accurate standards. The total area of ancient woodland now identified in the Chilterns AONB is 11,058 hectares, a net increase of 1,231 hectares, covering 13.19% of the AONB and over 60.5% of the total woodland cover.

The survey was commissioned by the Chilterns Conservation Board, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. The following local authorities provided funding and were members of the steering group:

  • Buckinghamshire County Council
  • Hertfordshire County Council
  • Chiltern District Council
  • Dacorum Borough Council
  • Wycombe District Council

The Chiltern Woodlands Project, Thames Valley Environmental Record Centre and Surrey Biodiversity Information Centre were contracted to undertake the survey itself.

The report on the Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey contains detailed results and maps for the full survey area, which comprised the Chilterns AONB plus the parts of Chiltern, Dacorum, Wycombe and South Bucks local authority areas outside the AONB.

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey report.

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey Appendix: Chiltern District

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey Appendix: Wycombe District

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey Appendix: South Bucks District

Chilterns Ancient Woodland Survey Appendix: Dacorum Borough



“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Cowleaze Wood bluebell panorama

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