Natural woodland once covered most of Europe, but thanks to the ever expanding human population, and our demand for resources and space, only a fraction remains. Woodland now covers just 12% of the UK and around half of this is in artificial plantations. Natural and semi-natural ancient woodland makes up just 1.2 %. Our shrinking woodland ecosystems play an important role in combatting climate change by storing carbon and controlling flooding by absorbing water, strengthening the soil and changing the paths of rivers.
Natural grasslands once only existed at altitudes above the tree-line, in floodplains or woodland clearings opened up by storms. However once human activities started to intensify, some 6,000 years ago, our grasslands began to expand. Today approximately 40% of the UK is grassland. Sadly most of this is in the form of managed farmland, that whilst seemingly green and vibrant these monoculture grasslands are effectively barren deserts to much of our wildlife.
Both habitats are closely related and many of the species found here frequent both ecosystems. Many animals rely on our woodlands to shelter and breed, emerging into the grasslands to feed. Badgers construct their setts deep in the woodland and venture into the fields at night to search for earthworms.
Many people are starting to wake up to the issues surrounding these important ecosystems. Homeowners are transforming their gardens into wildlife friendly habitats with well stocked feeders, insect friendly flowers and ponds for struggling amphibians. Farmers are allocating wildlife refuge areas surrounding fields, such as hedgerows, that provide important shelter. Interest is also growing in rewilding our woodland and grasslands and more and more people are buying disused woodland and farmland and transforming it back into a wildlife paradise.Read more