Woodland is a scarce yet important component of the Yorkshire Dales landscape. Semi-natural ancient woodlands dominated by self-sown native species are the most important types of woodland in the Dales for biodiversity conservation. These include upland mixed ashwoods, upland oakwoods and wet woodland.
Upland mixed ashwoods are found on base-rich soils in the north and west of upland Britain. Ash woodland is the most abundant and widespread type of woodland in the National Park. The canopy is comprised of ash, wych elm , sycamore with an understorey of downy birch, rowan, bird cherry, hawthorn and holly. The composition of the ground flora depends on the level of grazing and canopy cover but is usually dominated by dog’s mercury, bluebell and wood avens with wild garlic in the wetter areas. Ferns such as male fern and lady fern are also abundant. Good examples can be seen at Grass Wood in Wharfedale, Freeholders Wood in Wensleydale and parts of the Ingleton Waterfalls trail.
Upland oakwoods are rare in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Many of them have ground flora and shrub layers typical of oakwoods but oak trees are no longer present due to felling, however good examples of remnant oakwoods can be seen in parts of the Bolton Abbey Estate and parts of the Ingleton Waterfalls trail.
Wet woodland occurs on poorly drained or seasonally wet soils, usually with alder, birch and willow as the predominant tree species. Wet woods frequently occur as mosaics with other woodland types and with open habitats such as fens. Good examples of wet woodland In the Yorkshire Dales National Park include around Malham Tarn and around Semerwater.
Woodland has been cleared for a variety of purposes since the last Ice Age resulting in the current low cover in the Dales. Semi-natural woodlands are now very scarce in the National Park and account for only 1 % of the Dales area. Many of these are very small in size and have been modified for many centuries through clearance, heavy stock grazing or re-planting with non-native species. Consequently native woodland continues to be one of the National Park priority habitats and the subject of active work by a number of organisations.
A carpet of woodland bluebells is one of the most iconic images of British woodlands. In fact, the British Isles is said to be the best place in the world to see bluebells and three different species grow here. One of these is the native species Hyacinthoides non-scripta whilst the other two species; the Italian bluebell and the Spanish bluebell have been introduced. When the native species and the Spanish bluebell grow in close proximity, they can form a hybrid plant.
The native bluebell is easy to identify, having the longest stem (up to 50cm), with strongly scented flowers that hang to one side.
In the Yorkshire Dales National Park the native bluebell is widespread in low-level woodland. Good places to see bluebells are at Freeholders’ Wood Local Nature Reserve in Lower Wensleydale and Grass Wood in Wharfedale. The bluebells are generally at their best during April and May.
Bluebells are not just limited to woodlands however. They can also be seen on bracken-covered damp pastures, cliffs and hedge banks, where the conditions are right. They are also sometimes found in the sheltered grikes of the limestone pavement in the limestone country.
If you’re hoping to spot the Ramson on your next walk, you might find that you smell it before you see it! That’s because it has a distinctive garlic aroma is emitted when the leaves are bruised particularly between April and June. It is also known as ‘wild garlic’.
The Ramson is a bulb-shaped herb that grows throughout the year with bright green strappy leaves similar to those of Lily-of-the-valley and white flowers and is generally found in shady places including woodlands. The plant has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries, treating problems such as digestive disorders. In some areas of the UK, their existence within a wood can indicate that the woodland has been on the site since before 1600 AD.
In the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Ramsons is commonly found in upland ash woodland such as Grass Wood in Wharfedale, Freeholder’s Wood in Wensleydale and on the Ingleton Waterfalls walk as well as in the grikes of the limestone pavements