Ecosystems of the Ridgeway, Part I

The Ridgeway has two main ecosystems: woodland and chalk grassland. Andy will be walking the Ridgeway from the East to the West, so he’ll first encounter the woodland in the Chiltern Hills.

During the last Ice Age, a rich layer of clay was deposited on the chalk of the Chilterns, making an excellent base for trees.  Beech trees were the top colonisers, but there are also oaks, ash and whitebeam. The tree in the picture is a whitebeam, and one of the largest Chiltern hills is named ‘Whitebeam Hill.’

Because the chalk lies fairly close to the surface, the trees are shallow rooted here and blow over easily in storms. This makes for woodland with regular patches of open meadows; perfect for mammal habitats, particularly rabbits, deer and their predators.  The open character of the woodland is also conducive to plant growth among the trees, and the flowers of the plants attract insects and birdlife.

The woods here have been protected and managed by family dynasties for more than 400 years and gave rise to a local furniture industry and the production of charcoal.

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