Wet Woodlands - Habitat Action Plan

Ref 2/H2 Habitat Action Plan 2
Plan Author: Gerry Barnes (Norfolk County Council)
Plan Co-ordinator:  
Plan Leader: Forestry Commission
Final November 2003
Reviewed October 2004
Final (revised) 19 September 2005

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • This habitat type has been poorly recorded both in Norfolk and nationally. An estimate for the total area of wet woodland is 50,000-70,000ha in the national Habitat Action Plan. The Nature Conservancy Council estimated in the late 1980s that nationally there was between 25,000 and 30,000ha of wet woodland.

Norfolk Status

  • East Anglia is noted in the national context for the concentration of wet woodlands, particularly those on fens.
  • The woodland in both the Broads and that found on valley fen/mires is a European priority feature under the Conservation (Natural Habitat) Regulations 1994 and has been listed as a feature in both the Broads SAC and Norfolk Valley Fens SAC. Many other non-statutory sites, e.g., County Wildlife Sites and the wider countryside, also support wet woodland.
  • Many of the wet birch woods and willow woodlands have developed on open wetland habitats, sometimes after the end of active management.

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Current factors affecting the habitat in Norfolk

Wet woodland in the county is affected by numerous direct or indirect factors.

  • Recession in low intensity grazing of wetland is increasing the area of wet woodland.
  • Fen habitats as they deteriorate frequently develop wet woodland habitats when unmown or undergrazed.
  • Direct loss of the habitat through restoration to other land uses (for example fen restoration work). The Forestry Commission will continue to exercise the presumption included in National forestry policy, unless there are overriding public benefits, for example to restore important semi-natural habitats such as heathland or fen. Permission from the Forestry Commission is normally needed to fell growing trees; this is usually given in a Felling Licence.
  • Succession causing changes to other drier woodland types brought on by the dumping of silt, cessation of management or changes in water levels.
  • Inappropriate or no management causing changes in the structure and flora, leading to poor regeneration and changes in the floristic diversity.
  • Loss of disturbance-succession systems due to the loss of natural surface water processes, flooding etc.
  • Poor water quality leading to changes in the flora and invertebrate communities.
  • Changes in the flow patterns in the land drainage systems causing changes to woodland hydrology.
  • Colonisation of the woodland by non-native species for example Himalayan balsam.
  • Climate change may have a significant impact on the hydrology and biology of these woods.
  • Scarcity of the native black poplar (Populus nigra var betulifolia) means planting new ones is limited.
  • Disease. A virulent disease which is killing alder trees along several of the UK’s major river systems is caused by a fungus called Phytophthora. Affected trees show the following symptoms: very small, yellow leaves with tarry or rusty spots on the bark at the base of the trunk. Mortality rates among alders in sample plots on major water courses surveyed by the Forestry Commission between 1994 and 1996 suggest that many thousands of trees are infected or dying and the problem appears to be worsening. The Forestry Commission has produced an information note “Phytophthora Disease of Alder”. Climate change is predicted to make phytophthora a more common and serious disease.
  • Wet woodland has also colonised disused gravel pits in Norfolk. There may be opportunities to encourage further woodland planting when restoring active sand and gravel workings in the future.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Wet woodland is actually a European priority feature under the Conservation (Natural Habitat) Regulations 1994 and has been listed as a feature in both the Broads SAC and Norfolk Valley Fens SAC. Potters Carr, Cranworth has been designated SSSI for its wet woodland interest.
  • In Norfolk some areas of wet woodland have been given statutory conservation status. Some have been designated within the boundaries of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Others have the additional protection of being within internationally important sites. These include Ramsar sites, Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and in candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC).
  • Some woodlands have been identified as County Wildlife Sites (CWSs) which have some protection through the local planning authorities development plans. A number of conservation bodies in the county have reserves that include wet woodland habitats. Tree preservation orders, conservation areas and other policy decisions may also be responsible for the protection of some woods.
  • There is within national forestry a presumption against the loss of broadleaved woodland to other land uses. Felling licences from the Forestry Commission are usually required if the woods are not covered by plans approved by them. The relevant hydrological policy issues include Water Level Management Plans (WLMPs), impoundment licences and consents for abstraction and land drainage issued by the Environment Agency.
  • Norfolk County Council operates a scheme to record, propagate and plant the native black poplar (Populus nigra var betulifolia).

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets

National

The total area of wet woodland in the UK is 50,000-70,000 ha.

  • Maintain the total extent (50,000-70,000 ha) and distribution of wet woodlands.
  • Maintain the current area (currently estimated at 24,000-30,000 ha) of ancient semi-natural wet woodlands.
  • Initiate measures intended to achieve favourable condition in 100% of wet woodlands within SSSI/ASSIs by 2004.
  • Initiate measures intended to achieve favourable condition in 80% of wet woodlands of the total resource by 2004.
  • Achieve favourable condition over 50% of the total resource of wet woodlands by 2010.
  • Achieve favourable condition over 70% of the designated sites by 2010.
  • Complete restoration to site-native species of 1,600ha of former native wet woodland that has been converted to non-native plantations on ancient woodland sites by 2010.
  • Complete restoration to site-native species of a further 1,600ha of former native wet woodland that has been converted to non-native plantations on ancient woodland sites by 2015.
  • Complete establishment of 3,375ha of wet woodland on unwooded sites or by conversion of plantations by 2010.
  • Complete establishment of a further 3,375ha of wet woodland on unwooded sites or by conversion of plantations by 2015.

Regional

  • Maintain 100% of existing.
  • Restore 200ha by 2010.
  • Create 150ha by 2010.

Norfolk

  • Maintain the existing extent of SAC quality wet woodland (NVC communities W6 and W7). 
  • Achieve favourable condition in 95% (by area) of SSSIs where wet woodland is a notified feature by 2010, and in 50% of total county resource by 2020.
  • Create .....ha of floodplain woodlands where appropriate (quantitative target to be set following further research and survey work).
  • Create ......ha of wet woodland in worked out gravel pits (quantitative target to be set following further research and survey work).

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