If you go down to the woods today

Hypulus quercinus (Quensel), a rare saproxylic beetle collected at Dinefwr Deer Park
Hypulus quercinus (Quensel), a rare saproxylic beetle collected at Dinefwr Deer Park

Ancient trees surviving in Britain's parklands contain many rare species of beetle that live on dead wood and fungi. Surveys of Welsh parklands by Amgueddfa Cymru found a number of species previously unknown to Britain.

Parkland and Deer Farming

Deer farming was introduced to Britain by the Normans. Many began as wood-pasture - open grassy areas with widely spaced oak trees - used for grazing animals and growing trees. These trees were pollarded (branches cut back to the trunk) in order to produce fresh new growth. This prolonged the life of the trees, supplied new shoots for animals to eat and also provided a plentiful supply of timber.

The best ancient trees in Europe

This way of managing British parklands over the centuries have resulted in them containing the best examples of ancient trees in the whole of western Europe.

Big, hollow, over-mature trees can survive for many hundreds of years. Along with many forms of fungus and lichens, these ancient trees support a large number of rare invertebrates (animals with no backbone) like beetles and flies.

The Ancient Forest

Nearly 700 species of British beetles, and a large number of other invertebrates depend on timber and fungi for their existence. These animals are known as saproxylics and would have been widespread before man cleared the original forest which once covered Britain.

In the last 200 years almost 20 species of saproxylic beetle are thought to have become extinct in Britain and some species are now amongst the rarest and most endangered British invertebrates. Only in established parklands and wood-pasture, where ancient trees were maintained, do these rare species manage to survive.

Welsh Parkland survey - the first of its kind

Welsh parkland sites had never been properly investigated to discover how important they were for the survival of saproxylic insects, until a survey in 1996 by Amgueddfa Cymru on behalf of the Countryside Council for Wales.Species new to Britain

Over 350 species of saproxylic beetles and flies were discovered including some species previously unrecorded in Wales or Britain. The insect collection at Amgueddfa Cymru has been greatly enhanced by the addition of these new species. Three of the Welsh parkland sites investigated are probably amongst the top 20 sites in the United Kingdom in the diversity of saproxylic invertebrates they support.

Article Date: 5 April 2007

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Glossary

Invertebrates
Animals without a backbone.

Saproxylics
Animals dependant on timber.

Lichen
Plant-like colonies of fungi and algae that grow on the exposed surface of rocks.

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