Upland oak woodlands

Upland oak woods occur throughout the north and west of the UK. Many of them are in Wales and Scotland. Here in the north west of England they are a landscape feature of the Lake District in Cumbria. The main concentrations are in the Cumbrian Fells and Dales, the Eden Valley and are specially known in the Lake District National Park.

It is estimated that 19,700ha of semi natural broad-leaved woodland has declined by 30-40% in area over the last 60 years. The reasons for this decline include felling and the wide spread introduction of coniferous trees, some have been lost to agricultural requirements.

There are currently 29 Sites of  Special Scientific Interest {SSSIs} designated to upland oak woodland in Cumbria. There is one Cumbrian National Nature Reserve for upland oak woodland.

These woodlands are predominantly  oak {most commonly sessile oak, but locally Pendunculate {English oak} and birch in the canopy with varying amounts of Rowan and Hazel as the main under-story species.

Plants that occur in oak woodland depend to a great extent on the underlying soil type. A greater diversity occurs in woodland that run down to a stream; here flora such as ramsons. dog's mercury, lesser celandine and members of the fern community thrive.

Sloping banks and those that run down to a strean tend to have more floral diversity

Photos by Dal.

The wet, damp climate in the north west of Britain favours liverworts and ferns which form a very important components of the woodland community.

The National vegetation Classification of upland oak woodland names two types.

W11--Upland oak woodland with bluebell/wild hyacinthe

W17--Upland oak woodland with bilberry/blaeberry

The woodlands are recognised as being of international importance due to the extent and distinctiveness of the flora and fauna they support. Upland oak woodland take a long time to evolve and are valuable wildlife sites.

They are key habitats for many species such as the red wood ant Formica rufa. the workers can measure 8-10mm in length and are capable of dispensing formic acid from their abdomens as a defence mechanism. the ants live in colonies and feed on invertebrates encountered close to the nest, in particular, aphids which are taken from surrounding trees and other vegetation.


Top-nest of the Red wood ant

Red wood ant-Photograph courtesy of Michael Hanselmann {Creative commons attribution}

Nest of the red wood ant-photo Thue.

They live in large domed shaped nests that are usually encountered in woodland clearings where the suns rays can afford them warmth. They are not tolerant of any other ant species. Other species many of which are priority species of conservation concern are associated with this habitat. Any species marked with a * already feature on this site as individual subjects. associated species include--Dormouse,Brandt's bat, Noctule bat,Natterer's bat, Red squirrel*, Spotted flycatcher, Black grouse, Song thrush*, High brown fritillary, pearl bordered fritillary, Netted carpet moth, Argent and sable {moth}, Square spotted clay moth, Sword grass moth, Pine marten*, Northern wood ant, Oak bush cricket, Forester moth, Goat moth, Badger, Brown long eared bat*, Pipistrelle bat, wood warbler*.


In the remaining upland oak woodlands the current issues are----

Uncontrolled grazing {and deer}

Invasion of non-native woodland species particularly Rhododendron ponticum* 

Development pressures {and illegal fly tipping.

Effects on air pollution particularly on lichens and bryophytes. 

Unsympathetic management.

Partnerships between the Nation Park Authorities and the Forestry Commission to promote the creation of new woodland., is one of the key processes to conserve the woodlands.  In the first two years of the Challenge  Fund 145ha {5 Schemes} of new woodland has been agreed in the Lake District this is predominantly upland oak wood.

Woodland in the ownership/management of the Forestry Commission will address the above issues in this key habitat by-

Controlling appropriate grazing.

Removing controlling invasive species.

Managing the woodland with a sympathetic view towards wildlife.

Woodlands in the UK are important  habitats for wildlife and the future of upland oak woodland and other key types of woodland need to be conserved for future generations to enjoy and for the many species of wildlife that rely on them.


Oak gall created by the a gallwasp

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