coniferous woodland in Britain will have been planted for forestry purposes. Conifers are
preferred for timber production because they will produce an economic yield up to 6 times
faster than broadleaf trees. Wood is still a vital product today, with every man, woman
and child in Britain using a tonne of wood every year! Conifers produce wood which is
termed 'softwood'. It is used for a huge range of products from pine furniture to paper.
Coniferous woodlands in Britain are dominated by non-native
species of conifers such as Douglas
Fir (left), which have been imported to improve yields. They are often
mixed woodlands, with several different planted species present. Sitka Spruce accounts for the
greatest area of planted coniferous woodland (more here).
Plantations are usually sited on land which is too poor for agriculture.
There are only three species of
conifer which are generally recognised to be native to Britain. These are Scots Pine,
Juniper and Yew. The only one occurring in any quantity is Scots Pine. It is planted for
timber production, especially in the less hospitable areas for forestry. It is also a
pioneer tree species occurring naturally on similar soils to Birch. These two species may
often be found intermixed. Some areas of Pine woodland, particularly in Scotland, may be
the remnants of older natural forests. However, these have been considerably added
to through planting for forestry. For example, large areas of Scotland are being replanted
with Scots Pine of local provenance, in order to recreate the ancient Caledonian Forest.
Naturally occurring Pine woods are usually found on acid, sandy soils. If the woods are
fairly open, they will often have a heathy field layer of Heather, Bilberry and
Coniferous woodlands are by and large, planted and
managed to remove competing species. Their characteristics therefore often depend more on
the density of planting of the trees, the amount of thinning which has taken place and the
age of the trees, than on the dominant species of tree making up the woodland. To the
layman, one conifer species can also look pretty much like another. As a result,
coniferous woodlands tend not to be separately identified by species make-up.
However, modern coniferous plantations are also
designed and managed to take conservation considerations into account . For example, wide
rides may be provided to link areas of natural vegetation, such as heathland, which occur
within the plantation. Areas within conifer plantations may also be designated for the
planting or retention of native broadleaf trees. Stream banks and gullies in upland
conifer forests are now cleared of conifers to allow natural regeneration of native flora.
This also reduces the effects of acid rain.
||A notable exception to this is Larch woodland. In contrast to most
other species of conifer, Larch is deciduous, losing its needles in the autumn. It also
has a spreading, loose growth form which allows substantial quantities of light to filter
through to the woodland floor. As a result, Larch woodlands are easily identifiable as
being different to most other coniferous woodlands.
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