Revised Ancient Woodland Inventory for West Sussex

Ancient woodland in England is defined as a site that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD (Kirby & Goldberg 2006). Both semi-natural woodland and plantations on ancient woodland sites are classed as ancient. The habitat can be identified by comparing historical and modern mapping evidence as well as carrying out field surveys of plants and archaeological features.

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Ancient Woodland Ancient woodland is currently under-represented in much of the South-East. Our understanding of the habitat comes from surveys carried out at the end of the 1980s. However, the survey failed to identify many smaller woods that were under 2ha in size. To rectify this, a project called the Weald and Downs Ancient Woodland Survey was initiated. The project has been funded by the participating local authorities as well as the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Natural England, South Downs Joint Committee, Forestry Commission and the High Weald AONB.

The project has significantly increased our knowledge of ancient woodland in the South-East and its whereabouts, which has many positive implications. For example, it will help to identify threats to the resource, feed into landscape management initiatives and highlight opportunities for the strategic management of key woodlands.

The revision of the inventory has already been completed for several districts in the South-East including many of those in East Sussex and Kent. In these areas alone this has resulted in an almost 3,500ha increase in the woods included in the Ancient Woodland Inventory. The study has also contributed to our understanding of current woodland management practices, woodland archaeology and the distribution of key woodland species.

History of the Project

Moschatel Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive, Tony Whitbread started his career in Conservation as a surveyor on the first National Ancient Woodland Inventory in the 1980’s. This landmark project first brought Tony to Sussex where he surveyed the very best of our woodlands. The project must have made quite an impact on Tony as since then two of the key focuses in his career have been both Woodlands and Sussex.

The Provisional Ancient Woodland Inventory that was subsequently published in 1991, shows which woodlands were considered Ancient; i.e., are on sites that have been wooded since the 1600’s. Ancient Woodlands have had a long time to acquire species and form stable flora and fauna communities. They perform an essential biodiversity function as well as an essential link to the past, as these undisturbed soils hold many clues to earlier industries and management on the sites. Sussex undoubtedly holds one of the largest concentrations of Ancient Woodland in the UK.

However, when Tony was surveying and mapping woodlands in the late 1980’s the technology that is available to us now was only being dreamt about. Consequently, with the scale of work that was at hand all woodlands under 2 hectares in size were ‘ignored’. In many parts of the UK this will not have much altered the density of woodlands included in the inventory. However in Sussex, where we have a naturally undulating geology and many small woodlands created by assarting (clearing woodland cover to create fields), woodlands under 2 hectares are numerous, and those that are ancient are not formally recognised as such.

The government is increasingly identifying the importance of ancient woodland as an irreplaceable habitat. Planning Policy Statement 9, issued in 2005, states that ‘Local planning authorities should identify any areas of ancient woodland in their areas that do not have statutory protection.’ In Mid Sussex district, for instance, the survey identified nearly 40% more ancient woodland than had previously been recorded, adding 1,447 hectares to the Inventory.

There is currently a lack of ‘official’ recognition of the existence of these small woodlands, which means that they are potentially under greater threat from development. Many local authorities refer to the Ancient Woodland Inventory as the correct definition of the location and extent of ancient woodland in their areas.

Further Details & Methodology

Ancient woodland is a nationally important and threatened habitat, and its existence over hundreds of years has preserved irreplaceable ecological and historical features. The South-East has approximately 40% of the ancient woodland in England, but this valuable resource is increasingly under threat from development pressures in this densely populated region. The Weald and Downs Ancient Woodland Survey was set up in recognition of the increasingly important role of ancient woodlands and the deficiencies of the existing Ancient Woodland Inventory. It is undertaking a revision of the inventory in Kent and Sussex, with partner surveys also being undertaken in Surrey and the Chilterns.

The survey report, provided for download on this page, summarises the methodologies and findings of the two year project (running from October 2007 to January 2010) to revise the Ancient Woodland Inventory for West Sussex. The Weald and Downs Ancient Woodland Survey has worked with Adur District Council, Arun District Council, Chichester District Council, Crawley Borough Council, The Forestry Commission, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Unit, Horsham District Council, Natural England, the South Downs Joint Committee, the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, the Sussex Wildlife Trust and West Sussex County Council, to provide a robust evidence base upon which to assign ancient woodland status.

The woodlands of Brighton and Hove City Council were revised in conjunction with the above mentioned districts. Traditionally, Brighton and Hove was considered a part of East Sussex and so the results from that area have not been incorporated within those for West Sussex. The methodology used for the Brighton and Hove Survey is identical to that set out below, however the results have been published in a separate report appendix to avoid confusion.

Following on from the survey of Mid Sussex district, completed in 2007, the ancient woodland inventory for the remainder of West Sussex has been revised. Some minor changes to the Mid Sussex survey have been incorporated into this revision, and the updated results of the Mid Sussex survey have been incorporated into this report, to provide a full overview of the woodlands of West Sussex. For the original report for the Mid Sussex revision, see Westaway et al (2007) .

The last inventory for West Sussex was published in 1989. It only included woodlands greater than two hectares, and recorded a total area of 16,874 hectares of ancient woodland in the county. The area of ancient woodland since the original inventory was produced has risen to 21,375 ha, a net gain of 4,501 hectares as a result of this revision. This revision includes woodlands below two hectares for the first time, and represents an increase from approximately 8.3% to 10.5% of the county’s area designated as ancient woodland. The number of parcels of ancient woodland in the revised inventory, by contrast, is over two and a half times that of the original inventory, with the gain mostly attributable to small parcels of woodland.

The revised inventory will assist planners in making decisions about development within West Sussex, ensuring that the effects of any development proposals on ancient woodlands can be properly assessed and considered. It will also enable a better assessment of the extent and quality of West Sussex’s ancient woodland resource, as well as helping to identify threats to the resource, areas for improving habitat connectivity, and opportunities for the strategic management of key woodlands.