In search of Lancashire's lost landscapes
Staff at the Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership are hoping to see a renewed interest in these elusive and ancient woodlands.
Such "ghost" woods are the remnants of centuries old woodland, but are not necessarily woods in the way we might view them today, for they include ancient woodlands, wood pastures and parts of medieval parks/ royal forests.
There may be only a few trees, or a lone or decaying tree, there may be clues from other plants. The size of a tree is not necessarily an obvious indicator of age. Walk across a field or up a hillside and even a modest sized hawthorn could be very aged indeed. Ancient gnarled trees multi-stemmed trees can also be a sign of such woodland. On closer examination of rowans, oaks, hollies and willows some may be centuries old.
Check the ground below and a number of indicator species, ranging from bluebell to wild garlic, wood anemone and dog's mercury, can also provide evidence that an area could indeed be the site of lost woodland dating back many hundreds of years.
It is something of a detective journey because such woodland may not appear on maps as wooded areas or be named, although in some instances place names and old maps do help.
While intense scrutiny is needed to establish the flora and fauna of a site, the sweep is wider Ian said: "Plants tell you a lot about the history."
An exploration of shadow woods and wood pasture takes in the whole development of the landscape from pre-medaeval times to the present day. An understanding of how the landscape around us developed in accordance with human needs for fuel and timber, for tools and building and later according to farming practice, is a reminder that landscape does not stand still. From coppicing to enclosure, deer parks to grazing, man's activities and events such as plagues and civil war have guided the development of our local landscape and how and where ecosystems will flourish.
Coppicing, (where tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level and regrow), may have continued over centuries and where the remnants of coppiced trees survive it indicates ancient woodland. The ghost woods may not have comprised densely planted woods, but more scattered trees.
This examination and new understanding of the landscape's development could and should inform how we care for the environment going forward ,says the Professor, who is also a world authority on wild rhododendron, a plant which was the subject of his PhD.
As the author of books on landscape, history and ecology the Sheffield Hallam University academic is keen to see disciplines cross boundaries in pursuit of shared knowledge about woodland: "It's looking at landscape and trying to understand the past and then using that as a base to see what we do with the environmental challenges at the moment...We've been trying to understand what drives environmental change."
Ian is well acquainted with the Bowland area, which he visited as part of his studies for an ecology degree. He recalled: "Lancaster University was one of the very first places in the country that did that degree. It was a brand new course and I had family connections in Lancaster and Morecambe."
He points out that in medieval times the Bowland hills would not have been heather clad as now, but much would have been wood pasture - that is pasture lands with scattered trees: "The change to the heather and bracken moor is relatively recent."
From enclosures to land management, including burning of heather, drainage and sheep grazing, the landscape we see now was created since the late 18th century onwards.
Ian said: "It's learning from the past to understand the present to guide the future. We're looking at history to understand where we are today and why."
The wonderful thing about shadow woods he maintains is that they are still intact and take you back in time: "All that great area up the Pennines you're going to find these shadow wood areas. They take you back from now into medieval and take you back before medieval and the biodiversity is all there. These sites are still intact and nobody has noticed."
He will return on line for a follow up Bowland Festival webinar on rewilding on September 23 at 2pm. He said: "There are big issues about what we mean by rewilding and what some of the implications are. My take on that is that rewilding can extend from the the city centre to the mountain top .It needs to engage everyone You can rewild you back garden, your local green space. There are things we can all do. It's not a purist approach."
He continued: "We're working with farmers and landowners. Some (rewilders) have antagonised landowners. I'm going to farming groups and saying you aren't the problem, you're the answer."
Robin Gray, development and funding officer with the Bowland AONB, said: "Restoring shadow woods and creating new woods will create bigger, better and more connected habitats better to face future challenges in terms of biodiversity loss and climate change in our protected landscape.
"Ian is a national authority on the study of woodland habitats over time and has helped how we see the evolution of the landscape of the Forest of Bowland. Our understanding of what historically was or may have been woodland helps us identify where we might work with farmers and landowners to look at where we might assist nature recovery to restore these shadow woods or, indeed, create exciting new habitat.
"We certainly are interested in working with farmers and landowners and providing more training opportunities in identifying ancient and veteran trees for residents and visitors."
* If you would like to learn more about identifying ancient and veteran trees contact: [email protected]
* To book for the 'An introduction to Rewilding and Futurescapes' webinar on September 23 see the Bowland Festival section of the Bowland AONB website. (details will be posted online nearer the date of the talk.)
* See Ian's blog at ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com