Habitat account - Forests


9130 Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests 

Background to selection

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 9130 Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests.  Click image for enlarged map.
Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 9130 Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests. Click image for enlarged map.

Description and ecological characteristics

 

This Annex I type occurs on circumneutral to calcareous soils. In the UK it mostly corresponds to NVC type W12 Fagus sylvatica Ė Mercurialis perennis woodland, but more calcareous stands of NVC type W14 Fagus sylvatica Ė Rubus fruticosus woodland may also conform to this habitat type. The two NVC types often occur together on a site. Each community has a different associated suite of species which change according to slope and soil type. As slopes become steeper, there is a shift from relatively deep, moist and moderately base-rich soils to thin, dry and strongly base-rich profiles. There is an associated floristic gradient in the woodland understorey, with dense cover of bramble Rubus fruticosus on the shallowest slopes gradually being replaced by frequent dogís mercury Mercurialis perennis as the gradient increases, and then by sanicle Sanicula europaea, wall lettuce Mycelis muralis and wood melick Melica uniflora.

 

UK stands of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forest belong to the central and northern European associations of the habitat, typically lacking some of the more Continental species such as liverleaf Hepatica nobilis, baneberry Actaea spicata and asarabacca Asarum europaeum, but with correspondingly more Atlantic species, including holly Ilex aquifolium and bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Rare plants associated with this form of woodland in the UK include red helleborine Cephalanthera rubra, wood barley Hordelymus europaeus, coral-root Cardamine bulbifera and box Buxus sempervirens.

 

While many sites have a core of ancient woodland, planting of beech Fagus sylvatica and its natural spread on to adjacent grassland under reduced grazing pressures have led in places to an expansion of this habitat over the 20th century. Sites therefore often have a complicated history. The beech dominance in particular has often been emphasised by past silvicultural treatment.

European status and distribution

 

Asperulo-Fagetum beech forest is relatively widespread in Europe, extending from the north-western lowlands into the mountains of the centre and south.

UK status and distribution Click to view UK distribution of this habitat

 

Asperulo-Fagetum beech forest is relatively abundant within its range in southern England and Wales on circumneutral to calcareous soils along the slopes of the major hill systems of the chalk and southern limestones.

Site selection rationale

 

Sites have been selected to include extensive stands across the geographical range of the habitat. The SAC series encompasses the main lines of ecological variation within the habitat in the UK, including variations in the underlying geology (chalk and limestone) and in its occurrence with other woodland types. Sites where the stands of beech Fagus sylvatica occur in combination with other woodland types, grassland and scrub have been selected to increase the variety of structure and to allow for the dynamics of beech woodland. Because the dominance of beech at any one time may be greatly affected by disturbance and past management, regeneration is frequently dominated by ash Fraxinus excelsior or oak Quercus spp. rather than beech. Sites that have rare or specialised ground flora were also priorities for selection.


Site accounts

Cardiff Beech Woods East Wales
Cardiff Beech Woods contains one of the largest concentrations of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests in Wales, and represent the habitat close to the western limit of its past native range in both the UK and Europe. The woods show mosaics and transitions to other types, including more acidic beech woodland and oak Quercus and ash Fraxinus excelsior woodland. Characteristic and notable species in the ground flora include ramsons Allium ursinum, sanicle Sanicula europaea, birdís-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis and yellow birdís-nest Monotropa hypopitys.
Chilterns Beechwoods Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
The Chilterns Beechwoods represent a very extensive tract of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests in the centre of the habitatís UK range. The woodland is an important part of a grassland-scrub-woodland mosaic. A distinctive feature in the woodland flora is the occurrence of the rare coralroot Cardamine bulbifera.
Cotswold Beechwoods Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
The Cotswold Beechwoods represent the most westerly extensive blocks of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests in the UK. The woods are floristically richer than the Chilterns, and rare plants include red helleborine Cephalanthera rubra, stinking hellebore Helleborus foetidus, narrow-lipped helleborine Epipactis leptochila and wood barley Hordelymus europaeus. There is a rich mollusc fauna. The woods are structurally varied, including blocks of high forest and some areas of remnant beech coppice.
Cwm Clydach Woodlands / Coedydd Cwm Clydach West Wales and The Valleys
Cwm Clydach Woodlands is an example of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests close to the northern-western limit of the habitatís UK and European range and at relatively high altitude. The main wood is on a steep valley side, comprising a mature canopy of large trees with abundant dead wood. Transitions occur to more acidic beech woodland. Rare and characteristic plant species at the site include the whitebeam Sorbus porrigentiformis, mountain sedge Carex montana, yellow birdís-nest Monotropa hypopitys and birdís-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis.
Duncton to Bignor Escarpment Surrey, East and West Sussex
Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests occur here on steep scarp slopes and on more gently-sloping hillsides in mosaic with ash Fraxinus excelsior woodland, scrub and grassland. Much of the beech woodland is high forest but with some old pollards. Rare plants present include the white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium, yellow birdís nest Monotropa hypopitys and green hellebore Helleborus viridis. The woods also have a rich mollusc fauna.
East Hampshire Hangers Hampshire and Isle of Wight
East Hampshire Hangers represents Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests in south-east England. The site is extremely rich in terms of vascular plants, including white helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium, violet helleborine Epipactis purpurata, green-flowered helleborine E. phyllanthes and Italian lords-and-ladies Arum italicum. The woods include areas with old pollards on former wood-pasture as well as high forest. There are also transitions to 9180 Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes, screes and ravines.
North Downs Woodlands Kent
This site consists of mature Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests and also yew 91J0 Yew Taxus baccata woods on steep slopes. The stands lie within a mosaic of scrub and other woodland types and are the most easterly of the beech woodland sites selected. Parts of the woods were affected by the Great Storm of 1987.
The New Forest Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
The New Forest is the largest area of mature, semi-natural beech Fagus sylvatica woodland in Britain; much of it is a form of W14 Fagus sylvatica Ė Rubus fruticosus woodland that conforms to the Annex†I type Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests. The mosaic with other types of woodland and heath has allowed unique and varied assemblages of epiphytic lichens and saproxylic invertebrates to be sustained, particularly in situations where the woodlands are open and the tree trunks receive plenty of light. The traditional common grazing in the Forest by cattle and ponies provides opportunities to explore the impact of large herbivores on the woodland system.
Wye Valley Woodlands/ Coetiroedd Dyffryn Gwy Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, West Wales and The Valleys
The Wye Valley contains abundant and near-continuous semi-natural woodland along the gorge. Beech stands occur as part of a mosaic with a wide range of other woodland types, and represent the western range of Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests. Such a variety of woodland types is rare within the UK. In places lime Tilia sp., elm Ulmus sp. and oak Quercus sp. share dominance with the beech. Structurally the woods include old coppice, pollards and high forest types. Lady Park Wood, one of the component sites, is an outstanding example of near-natural old-growth structure in mixed broad-leaved woodland, and has been the subject of detailed long-term monitoring studies.

SACs/SCIs/cSACs where this Annex I habitat is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Aston Rowant Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Surrey, East and West Sussex
 

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