Thousands of years ago, Dorset was almost entirely covered in woodland made up of oak, ash, elm, lime and many other trees. Much of this ‘wild-wood’ was cleared by our ancestors for agriculture, creating a range of different habitats such as meadows and heaths. Now, only 11% of Dorset is covered in woodland.

Dorset Woodlands Today

Ancient Woodland

Little of the ‘wild-wood’ is left but some areas that were cleared became woodland again hundreds of years ago and these are often called ‘ancient woodlands’.

Ancient woodlands are very important for wildlife, supporting many plants and animals that are not found in more recently planted woods. In fact, the presence of these plants and animals is a good ‘indicator’ that the wood is ancient.

Bluebell, Wood anemone, Yellow archangel, and Wood spurge are indicators of ancient woodland. If you find them in a wood, it is likely that there has been continuous tree cover for at least 400 years.

Other broad-leaved woodlands

Many more recent woodlands are also very important for wildlife. In Dorset, many are small farm woods.

Whether ancient or more recent, most of our woods have been influenced by people. Many were managed as coppice woods. Coppicing involves cutting the stems of the trees near the ground, encouraging new stems to develop. These can be harvested at different stages for different uses, such as fuel, charcoal-making, hurdles and thatching spars. Coppicing was once a common practice and formed the basis of woodland management. Many other plants and animals were able to thrive in coppice woods, such as dormice, birds and butterflies. As coppicing has become less common, so many of these species have declined.


Some of our woodlands are managed as plantations, growing timber trees such as spruce and pine. These are often less valuable for wildlife, but can contribute to the rural economy and provide recreational areas for people to enjoy.

Top Dorset Woodlands to Visit

If you've got a favourite wood you visit and it isn't on our list ... we'd love to hear from you! Please tell us where you go and what you like about it so we can get a better picture of Dorset's most popular woodlands. Click here to get in touch.

Threats to Dorset Woodlands

  • Many Dorset woodlands are very isolated, making it hard for species to spread.
  • Wildlife has declined as traditional management has ceased, e.g. coppicing.
  • Many ancient woods have been planted with conifers / non-native trees, making them less valuable for wildlife.
  • Falling timber prices mean that woodland management is no longer economical.
  • New pests and diseases are arriving through imports and a changing climate.

How to Help Dorset Woodlands

  • Support the Woodland Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the National Trust who manage some of our most important woodlands
  • Buy local sustainable wood products, such as Dorset charcoal for your barbeque. This directly supports woodland management. For further information visit The Log Pile
  • Enjoy our woodlands in spring, when the bluebells and other rare plants are in flower, but don’t pick or trample them – let them set seed for the future!

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