Wiltshire and Swindon Biological Records Centre

Wood Pasture and Parkland

Ancient beech pollard, WSBRC/Sharon Pilkington


Wood pastures are areas of open, wooded land that has been used for growing trees as well as grazing livestock, what makes these areas of conservation interest is the presence of large old trees – known as ancient or veteran trees. The presence of decaying wood and cavities within these trees provides a valuable habitat for many species. Decaying wood supports uniquely rich fungal and invertebrate communities along with lichens, mosses and liverworts. The cavities may be used by bats for nesting and roosting, and by birds for nesting. In historic parkland there may now only be a few ancient trees surrounded by commercial plantations.

A high percentage of rare and threatened dead-wood species are now associated with ancient trees and they provide valuable stepping-stones for wildlife to move from one ancient tree habitat to another. The pasture is sometimes also of conservation interest although it may have been lost or damaged due to changes in farming practices. Ancient trees may also be found in ancient coppice, and along hedgerows and watercourses, many of these are old pollards. Floodplains often have concentrations of older open-grown trees.

Remnants of wood pasture remain in some places, but there are few actively managed ancient wood pastures remaining in Wiltshire, some have been converted largely to parkland such as Longleat. Savernake Forest is relict wood pasture that has the potential for restoration.

Figures for the extent and numbers of wood-pasture and parkland sites in Wiltshire are vague, if available. It is thought that at its height – during the medieval park system – there were around 70 sites in Wiltshire with over 5,000ha in total and wood-pasture would have been one of the dominant forms of management. It is not known how much of this wood-pasture and parkland survives today; many areas will have been lost through enclosure, development and change of management. The 1998 English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest lists 35 historic parks and gardens in Wiltshire, of which around 26 contain parkland, but a number of parks are not included on the Register, which also doesn’t contain wooded commons and forests except where they coincide with historic parks.

Information taken from the Wiltshire Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).