A Very Short History of Woodland
From carved Bronze Age cup and ring stones, relict field systems, old trackways, Romano-British settlement sites, Medieval veteran trees, woodland boundaries, post-medieval cottage and mill sites, to First World War practice trenches, woodlands across the South Pennines preserve a palimpsest of human history.
The physical form of woodlands across the region and indeed nationally have altered significantly since woodland first established itself after the last glacial period some 12,000 years ago. ‘Wildwood’ consisting predominately of Hazel and Oak, dominated the South Pennines when humans first arrived in the area during the Mesolithic. Though termed ’Wildwood’, it was not a continual blanket of woodland, but instead a patchwork, supporting extensive tracts of grassland with open-grown solitary trees. These natural clearings served to support large herbivores such as deer and wild oxen that no doubt attracted the early hunter-gatherer communities to the area.
As human society adopted agriculture and populations increased through the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Period and into the Medieval era, so the extent of woodland declined and its resource became intensively managed. By the 19th century traditional forms of woodland management such as coppicing and pollarding in the face of increased industrialisation decreased. Woodlands were altered to favour timber plantations, the process of which often witnessed the removal of the oak and hazel woodlands in favour of conifer, beech and sycamore.