Woodlands and hedgerows

Trees, woods and hedgerows form a small but important series of habitats for plants and wildlife in Nidderdale AONB.

Woodlands are important for nature conservation, providing a rich habitat for plants, animals, birds and insects. Woodland in Nidderdale AONB can be grouped as:

  • Upland woodland: most of the woodland in upland areas was cleared more than a thousand years ago. Woodland sites are often scattered and small but despite this they can be of national or international importance with a wide range of species and communities not found in lowland English woods. The cool, wet upland conditions favour the growth of rare ferns, mosses and lichens.
  • Coniferous plantations: planted in more recent times for commercial purposes with non-native species. Their establishment has often been controversial because they replace open ground of high conservation value. However, some plantations have become a nature conservation resource in their own right providing a refuge for rarer bird species such as goshawk and long-eared owl.
  • Wet woodland: consisting of alder and willow where drainage is poor. This can be in upland gills or the valley bottom or even within the other types of woodland already described. They host sedges and ferns along with rare insect species.
  • Orchards: old and former orchards are of both historic and biodiversity value. Nidderdale AONB’s Historic Parks and Gardens Group have researched the location and history of orchards in the area.


Hedgerows are in effect linear woods. The oldest ones were often left along fields and lanes after surrounding woodland was cleared. Whether ancient or recently planted, hedgerows provide a complex series of mini habitats within their narrow margins.

They range from streams and wet ditches to grassy banks as well as the woody species, trees and climbing plants in the hedge itself.

Older hedges may be the remnants of cleared ancient woodland and the rich variety of species in and around them is a clear indicator of their origins. Plants like primroses, wood garlic and wood anemone are common.

More recently planted hedges, like the hawthorn hedges associated with the 19th century Enclosure Acts, may have fewer plant species in them. However, they provide thin corridors of woodland along which birds and other animals may safely move from place to place.

Thousands of miles of hedgerows have been grubbed out since the 1950s as farming has become ever more intensive, but thankfully nowadays most agricultural hedgerows are protected by law and Countryside Stewardship schemes encourage farmers to look after and even improve their hedges.

Wood pasture and parkland

Wood pasture and parkland were created for different purposes but both have clumps or individual trees set in grassland. Wood pasture has the longest history of the two types of woodland in Nidderdale AONB. It was created in medieval times when much of the area was kept as hunting forest for the nobility.

Areas of trees were managed within open pasture, providing a renewable source of firewood and leaf as fodder, while being far enough apart to allow grass to grow underneath for both farm animals and deer for the chase.

In parkland, individual trees were either left over from forest clearance or deliberately planted to enhance the landscape by their wealthy owners. The earliest parks were created to hold herds of deer for hunting while later parks were associated with grand country houses.

Some of these parkland trees may be very old and are designated as veteran trees. They support colonies of fungi and provide habitats for rarer Saproxylic beetles such as the stag beetle that eat decaying wood. The trees also provide important habitat for bird and bat species.

What are we doing to conserve the AONB's woodlands and hedgerows?

  • working with landowners to help them access woodland grants
  • providing advice about appropriate planting schemes
  • providing supervised volunteer groups on tree planting projects and managing woodlands

What can you do to help protect the AONB's woodlands and hedgerows?

  • if you are a landowner you may be eligible for a grant to help you create a new woodland
  • seek advice from our Farm Conservation Advisor, Marian Wilby, before starting a planting project
  • Join a volunteer group and help us plant some trees!