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Wood Pasture

The Actions for Wood Pasture in the Lower Dales of Dumfries and Galloway Project (AWP) was been developed, as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Sulwath Connections Landscape Project, in order to raise awareness of, and to enhance this habitat in the Lower Dales of Dumfries and Galloway and secure its continued presence for future generations.

What is a wood pasture?

This is a difficult question to answer but for the purposes of this 3-year project, a wood pasture is a type of landuse that includes both the deliberate grazing of grassland or heathland combined with the management of trees and scrub.  In today’s land management practices trees and shrubs in wood pastures are rarely actively managed.

Why was wood pasture important in the past?

Historically it is believed that wood pastures were actively managed, as the wood and scrub were equally as important as herbage.  Species such as hawthorn, hazel, and gorse probably played an important part as shelter for stock in winter and shade in summer, as well as the foliage being supplementary fodder.

Wood pastures also provided components for the following:

  • Construction of buildings and fortifications
  • Crafting of furniture
  • Fashioning of agricultural tools and weapons of warfare
  • Preservation of fishing gear and boats
  • Making of fences
  • Packaging of fish and other foods
  • Milling of grain
  • Baking of bread
  • Curing of fish and meat
  • Weaving of baskets
  • Manufacture of bobbins
  • Mining of coal and other minerals
  • Smelting of iron, lead and copper
  • Making of gunpowder
  • Spinning and weaving of cloth
  • Tanning of hides and leather
  • Domestic heating fuel.

How did wood pasture historically survive?

The modern thought is that deliberate grazing and trees do not mix however much of Dumfries and Galloway was historically managed that way.  Wood pastures would have evolved through lower stocking levels thus resulting in natural regeneration of new trees from seed.  The use of high summer pastures would also have allowed seedlings to become established on lower ground, and temporary reductions in herbivore populations following, for example, a particularly hard winter, might have produced similar results.

Fallen trees may also have played a vital role in plant regeneration as the crown of the fallen tree may have provided ample protection for the saplings for long enough to allow them to develop and mature.

Thorny shrubs provide their own protection against grazing animals.  For example, hawthorn and gorse can grow under quite heavy grazing pressures, whilst blackthorn tends to regenerate in clumps.  Also, while providing protection to themselves these plants may have also created a protective nursery for other trees such as oak, ash and elm.

Trees are known to regenerate in wood pastures by vegetative means.  For example, a number of trees can regenerate from fallen trunks (resulting in what is now termed as a phoenix tree) or to produce re-growth from branches that touch the ground; aspen suckers, hazel and willow produces multi-stem growth, and several species can produce new shoots from basal swellings or from a trunk snapped off by the wind.  All these processes still exist in today’s wood pastures.
In other parts of the UK pollarding and coppicing were historically used as land management practices however there is no evidence that it was commonly done in Dumfries and Galloway.

Where have all the Wood Pastures gone?
It is thought that in the past most of Dumfries and Galloway resembled a large wood pasture.  So why do we have so few left in the region?  It is thought that the creation of agricultural land with stone dykes and hedges in the late 19th and 20th centuries contributed to the reduction of wood pasture.  With the construction or more and more dykes and hedges the remaining wood pastures continued to be lost to the agricultural intensification.  Furthermore, in the mid 20th century the afforestation of conifer plantations also contributed to the loss of wood pasture.

What’s happening with the Dumfries and Galloway Wood Pasture Project?
Currently four sites are being managed as wood pasture.  Three of these sites have had trees planted in natural-style tree enclosures and wooden tree enclosures (see photos).  The fourth site is an organic farm and has a problem with bracken.  The bracken is preventing anything else from establishing.  Because this farm is farmed organically no chemicals are allowed to be used to control the bracken, therefore a bracken bruiser was purchased.

Six other wood pastures have been identified in Dumfries and Galloway and conservation works will begin this autumn.  Most of these sites will include planting trees in tree enclosures.