Defining ‘natural woodland’

Humans have influenced the distribution and character of British woodlands for thousands of years and, as a result, conservationists are often wary of labelling any modern-day woodland as natural. This cautious approach to the use of the word ‘natural’ is understandable, but is it really necessary? George Peterken argues that we are wasting a perfectly good term, and urges us to relax and unhesitatingly describe many more types of woodland as natural.

Something has gone wrong with our idea of natural woodland. Authors of three recent contributions to British Wildlife have felt the need to place ‘natural’ in quotes when characterising both the pre-Neolithic environment and recent woods of self-sown origin (Alexander et al. 2018; Fyfe 2018; Robertson 2018). The term seems unavoidable, but not, it seems, quite appropriate.

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