Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1041–1053 | Cite as

Copying ancient woodlands: a positive perspective

  • Paul L. SmithEmail author
Review Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Forest and plantation biodiversity


The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 15 requires global restoration of degraded ecosystems including complex examples. A case is made for the deliberate creation of woodlands with ancient characteristics. In the temperate biome, efforts to restore such communities will be accelerated by intervention facilitating natural succession. Negative rhetoric regarding the irreplaceability of ancient communities may hinder such considerations. Some facets of ancient woods are irreplaceable and their destruction is discouraged. Nevertheless, as human population and impact increase, this resource will degrade. Though understanding of many ecological processes is incomplete, ecological restoration requires proactivity. Physicians need not fully understand the healing process to rely upon it and, fortunately, ecology carries similar intangible reliables; natural succession occurs and complex communities actively self-assemble. Accepting this, then woodland with many characteristics of ancientness can be deliberately created. Thermodynamic principles may assist and seeking to initiate a biodiversity cascade is proposed as a pragmatic approach. The intricacy that defines ancient woodland might thus be assembled in timescales of less than a century. Ascension Island’s anthropogenic cloud forest provides a precedent. For utilitarian purposes, human-mediated plant dispersal (deliveries of plants to the island), led to the transformation of species-poor, fern-dominated hillsides to species–rich cloud forest in about 100 years. How much more could be achieved with appropriate ecological intention?


‘Facsimile’ Woodland creation Aichi Biodiversity cascade 



Thanks to Professor Stuart K. Allison, Dr. David Gledhill and anonymous reviewers for invaluable critique and to former students (especially Tom Docker and Hilary Phillips) for insights.


This work was supported by Dr. Nicholas Howden and University of Bristol Faculty of Engineering.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of EngineeringUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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