Lowland wood-pasture and parkland - Habitat Action Plan

Ref 2/H1 Habitat Action Plan 1
Plan Author: Norfolk County Council (Gerry Barnes)
Plan Co-ordinator: Woodland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: Norfolk County Council
Final November 2003
Reviewed October 2004
Final (revised) February 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

Physical and Biological Status

  • Lowland wood-pasture and parkland as we know them today are products of historic land management. Typically, they consist of open-grown or high forest trees (often pollards) at various stocking densities in a matrix of grazed grassland, heathland and/or in woodland. The trees are often large and ancient. Tree management has helped produce these characteristic trees of great age. Often such trees are part of our cultural heritage, and they have been described as cultural icons in ever changing landscapes.
  • Wood-pastures vary between very open and very dense, and three broad types are found:

- Grazed high forest with woodland type flora;
- 'Parkland' with a ground flora showing few woodland elements;
- Grazed coppice in which livestock are temporarily excluded until the regrowth is out of reach.

  • Wood-pastures that are no longer grazed are termed 'former wood-pastures'.
  • In Norfolk, there are both the remnants and the active practice of a tradition of using the same land to grow trees and graze animals. Today this land is defined as wood-pasture (silva pastillis).

National Status

  • There are no reliable statistics either nationally or for Norfolk, nor have the current rates of degradation or loss of this type of habitat been surveyed accurately. A national figure of 35,100 ha is given for wood-pasture and parkland in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
  • This habitat is better represented in lowland Great Britain than elsewhere in Europe, although scattered examples are to be found throughout Europe. Parklands may be a seed pool for distinctive local phenotypes. These areas are of outstanding European importance.

Norfolk Status

  • Norfolk has a rich heritage of wood-pasture and parkland. Early maps and documents describe the county as having vast numbers of free-standing trees in pastures and parks.
  • Low woodland-pasture and parkland habitats may be identified as containing a range of National Vegetation Classification (NVC) stand types. In Norfolk, the following are likely to occur.

- Quercus robur - Pteridium aquilinum - Rubus fruiticosus woodland (W10).
- Quercus robur - Betula spp - Deschampsia flexuosa woodland (W16).
- Fraxinus excelsior - Acer campestre Mercuralis woodland (W8).

  • Wood-pasture is known to be of primary importance to eight national priority species that occur in Norfolk and for a number of saproxylic Coleoptera (deadwood beetles) and Diptera (flies).
  • Research by Leicester University into DNA of ancient trees has made it possible to identify the likely geographical origin of Britain's oak trees. As a result of genetic mutation and the different post-glacial colonisation of Britain and Europe, the oaks of East Anglia were found to be a unique variant, raising important biodiversity implications. Norfolk has both pendunculate and sessile oak. The sessile is largely confined to the Cromer-Holt ridge, and is a nationally important concentration of former wood-pasture.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Wood-pasture and parkland in the county is affected by numerous direct or indirect factors. These include:

- Change of ownership and the severance of house from the parkland;
- Diminishing tree cover in wood-pasture and parklands;
- A lack of structural and age diversity;
- Oak mildew, especially after re-pollarding;
- Lack of maintenance for newly planted trees;
- A lack of new pollarding of maiden trees within a location of veteran pollards. (Pollards are not a feature in post-medieval parks.);
- Unsympathetic tree surgery (often due to Health and Safety implications and concerns for public safety);
- The removal of too much deadwood;
- Direct loss of the habitat through change to other land uses, eg arable farming, golf courses, road building, expansion of villages, commercial encroachment, and the colonisation of secondary woodland;
- Destruction and improvement of the grassland component - drainage, re-seeding, etc;
- Lower water tables and pollution;
- Not using local genotype where appropriate;
- Reduction in low intensity grazing has led to a decline in the floristic value of woodland pasture;
- Use of fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides;
- Animal stocking densities - too high or too low. For example, damage to trees by cattle, bark stripping, root damage, soil compaction and poaching under tree canopies;
- Ploughing too close to trees;
- Cutting away lower branches; these are the first on the tree to produce a deadwood habitat;
- Bracken and other invasive species;
- Fire - related to excessive bracken;
- Wilful damage to fragile habitats: hollow trees and standing deadwood.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Species such as bats and some birds which utilise ancient trees are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This also gives some protection to their place of shelter.
  • The Norfolk Parks and Gardens Survey, a joint project between Norfolk County Council and the Centre of East Anglian Studies, has recorded some of Norfolk's medieval parks. The Norfolk Veteran Tree Survey, sponsored by Norfolk County Council and English Nature, has also recorded many of the sites.
  • A Heritage Tree Survey covering both Norfolk and Suffolk was launched in 2005, with the financial support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This is a joint project between the Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils.
  • In Norfolk, one area of wood-pasture at Felbrigg has been given statutory conservation status. Some sites have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Others are protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs), Conservation Areas or are within Special Landscape Areas and/or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Those sites which are County Wildlife Sites have some protection through the local planning authorities' development plans. TPOs and Conservation Area Status may also be responsible for the protection of some wood-pasture and parkland.
  • Felbrigg is an SSSI known particularly for its fungal interests, which are believed to be second only to those of Holkham in terms of importance. These interests were being lost through woodland spread. Around 1995, the National Trust embarked on a programme of creating some 20ha of wood-pasture at Felbrigg. Some of the site had been wood-pasture that tumbled down to woodland over time, while other areas were woodland planted during the twentieth century.
  • A report on the landscape history of heaths and wood-pasture has recently been prepared by Norfolk County Council and the School of History at the University of East Anglia.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • Maintain the current extent (35,100 ha) and distribution of the total resource of wood-pasture and parkland.
  • Maintain the current extent, distribution and condition of wood-pasture and parkland that is in favourable ecological condition.
  • Initiate, in areas where examples of derelict wood-pasture and parkland occur, a programme to restore 2,500 ha to favourable ecological condition by 2010.
  • By 2002, initiate the expansion of 500 ha of wood-pasture or parkland, in appropriate areas, to help reverse fragmentation and reduce the generation gap between veteran trees.


  • Maintain 100% of existing.
  • Restore 250ha by 2010.
  • Create/expand 18 key sites by 2010.


  • Maintain the existing extent of wood-pasture.
  • Create/expand 40 ha of wood-pasture by 2010.

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