Plantlife To Save And Protect 'Atlantic' Woodlands

  • National Lottery backs conservation work to safeguard woodlands celebrated by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tolkien
  • Wonderful 'Atlantic' woodlands and their plants face severe challenges from climate change, air pollution, tree diseases and changes in management
  • Emergency management will safeguard some of our most rare and threatened lichen communities, such as the string-of-sausages lichen Usnea articulata and the ‘stinky’ Stictas that smell of fish
  • Connectedness to nature: Almost 100 'forest bathing' (Shinrin Yoku) sessions to be run to bring woodlands' benefits to human health and wellbeing to life

Wistman's Wood

A Plantlife-led project to save and protect coastal and upland woodlands has been backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.

Plantlife has received a confirmed National Lottery grant of £433,700 from HLF for the Building Resilience in South West Woodlands project following a successful development phase. The three and half year conservation partnership includes Exmoor National Park Authority, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and Natural England.

"The rugged coastlines of the South-West may grab the headlines and draw the crowds but the ancient, wet and wild woodlands are just as spectacular" says Rachel Jones, Plantlife's Development Manager for the Building Resilience Project." Oak and ash woodlands, richly carpeted in rare mosses and lichens, thrive in the mild climate of the Atlantic coast and form globally rare, internationally important, temperate rainforests that support a rich wealth of wildlife. We are delighted that HLF has recognised the unique importance of these threatened habitats and is supporting our concerted efforts to raise their profile and build better resilience to the threats posed by climate change, air pollution and tree diseases including ash dieback. Thanks to National Lottery players, the work starts now in earnest to save and safeguard these wonderful woodlands that have inspired writers, poets and painters including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tolkien."

Under the project, practical conservation work will kick off this winter in six sites on Dartmoor and Exmoor. Essential woodland conservation work will help to protect some of our most rare and threatened lower plants (lichens, mosses and liverworts) and contribute to our knowledge about how best care for them in future.

Public engagement is at the heart of Building Resilience, which includes a focus on expanding the emerging practise of 'forest bathing' in the region. Under the project a network of eight forest bathing practitioners will be trained so that almost 100 forest bathing sessions can be run, allowing 500 people to immerse themselves in nature, and experience the well-documented benefits to their health and wellbeing.


Lobaria and Stricta lichens

Building Resilience also offers a schools ‘Future Scientists’ programme, specialist training to enhance the volunteer skills base and community outreach. The project will connect with at least 17,000 people across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset through citizen science initiatives. Through these activities people will be able to learn about the woodland heritage, develop new skills and also contribute data that will contribute to the conservation of lower plants.

"It is only through helping more people to learn about and enjoy these woodlands that we will see them become more valued" Rachel added. "We're confident that once people, whether schoolchildren or woodland landowners, encounter the treasures of the forest they will be highly motivated to safeguard them for generations to come."

"Guided forest bathing sessions offer a particularly wonderful way to restore peoples' connectedness to nature: For those either unfamiliar with, or looking for a new way to explore woods, forest bathing offers a calming way to experience the peace and tranquillity."

During the development phase of the project, two woodlands have been newly identified by volunteers as possessing rare and threatened lichens, such as the string-of-sausages lichen Usnea articulata and a group of lichens known as the ‘stinky’ Stictas. These lichens are indicative of high quality woodland with clean air and humid, ‘rainforest-like’ conditions. It is hoped that with the help of volunteers, new sites of conservation importance can be discovered and protected.

The future conservation work will focus on protecting some of the most important and threatened lichen communities including:

  • The Lobarion community (typified by spectacular tree lungwort lichen and the ‘stinky Stictas’ which smell of fish). This community is particularly threatened by ash dieback.
  • Ancient dry bark community (mosaics of grey-white and grey-brown crustose lichen species, confined to warm temperate oceanic climates. The south west is the international stronghold of these lichens).

"Some of these lichens are indicative of sites with a long ecological continuity" says Alison Smith, Plantlife's Lead Community Scientist. "They can take hundreds of years to develop, but can be lost very quickly as a result of a change in conditions. Plantlife and partners are aiming to build and strengthen the resilience of our Atlantic woodlands so that species that have existed for centuries but are now declining are given a new lease of life."

“Our Atlantic woodlands are full of incredible and rare natural heritage" says Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West "but they are at risk at being of being lost. Now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, people across the region will help Plantlife secure the future of the woodlands, from taking part in community science initiatives to renewing connections with nature through forest bathing.”

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Building Resilience in South West Woodlands

A new Heritage Lottery Funded project to save the ancient trees and coastal woodlands celebrated by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tolkien (Image: Laurie Campbell)

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