© James Ratchford/ WTML

Why our Lost Woods need protecting and restoring

The ancient woods of the Sussex Low Weald and Downs need saving. Once a central part of daily life for thousands of years, now they’re often forgotten and fragmented, cut off by development and vulnerable to more damage.

Discover the threats these woodlands face – and our plans to protect them together.

Protection for the Lost Woods of the Low Weald

Spanning the boundary between East and West Sussex, the Lost Woods are found in 314 square kilometres of the Low Weald. They sit between two highly protected areas– the South Downs National Park and the High Weald National Landscape.

The Low Weald has just 14% tree cover, compared with almost 25% in the High Weald.

In the past, the Low Weald hasn’t attracted as much protection, support and funding as its neighbours. Now Natural England has identified the Low Weald as an ‘outstanding’ priority for woodland conservation. We’re here to make sure these woods get the protection they deserve.

©JamesRatchford/ WTML

Why do we need these ancient woods?

Time has separated these woods from their traditional connections with local communities. Daily routines and seasonal rhythms that brought us into the woods for millennia have been broken, as land use rapidly changed. But we still need them – and they need us.

Rare species including Bechstein’s bat and the lesser spotted woodpecker rely on them for survival. We rely on them too, as they store carbon in their soils and timber, help to regulate temperatures as our summers grow hotter, and, where left to grow a little wilder, slow the flow of water from extreme rainfall as our climate changes.

Lost Woods brings local people together to learn about, explore, and care for woods across the Low Weald and Downs. Together, we can reconnect with our ancient woodlands and revive, restore, and protect them for future generations.

Understanding the trees of the Lost Woods

In many woods in the Low Weald and Downs, you may find just one or two species of tree thriving. This makes the whole woodland vulnerable to devastation by pests and diseases.

Invasive non-native species such as rhododendron and cherry laurel can shade out young trees, or new growth becomes a snack for browsing deer. Native trees can’t regenerate and the biodiversity of the wood is slowly lost.

60% of the woods in the project area are neglected

Different woodlands have different needs. Some need to be left alone, while many others require careful management to help them thrive.

Less than half the Lost Woods are getting the management they need. We understand it can be difficult to know where to start – people may not have the skills, knowledge, time or funding to take action.

Once we understand the condition of a wood, we can support landowners and conservation groups to turn the woods they love around.

Ancient trees, modern crops

A quarter of the ancient woodland in the area has been cleared and replanted with timber crops that will no longer be harvested. These are known as planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS). They’re mainly planted with one species or ‘monocrop’ – often conifers – which doesn’t welcome the rich mixture of wildlife found in mixed native woodlands.

You may think PAWS like Pondtail Wood look nothing like ancient woodland today. But there’s hope beneath our feet. The soils have everything they need to bring the woodland back to a thriving state.

At the other end of the timeline, our ancient trees are irreplaceable habitats. But we don’t know where all our ancient trees are located – or which trees are facing threats. The Lost Woods team aims to map every single ancient and veteran tree to help protect these living legends for future generations.

© Tessa Chan/ WTML  

From islands to corridors – reconnecting our woods

The ancient woodlands that remain in the Low Weald have shrunk as they’ve been sold in smaller and smaller lots. Many of them have become islands, surrounded by expanding farmland, villages and towns.

Isolation from other woodlands is a disaster for biodiversity, and local extinctions of wildlife are unavoidable. When woods like these have been encroached on from all angles, they often have a high ‘edge to area ratio’ – where the distance around their perimeter is large, compared to the area their trees cover. This makes them especially vulnerable to damage from pollution, disease and flooding.

Lost Woods is working with landowners to find places where we can reconnect fragmented woods, through replanting and natural regeneration. As these living corridors grow, wildlife will return and biodiversity will flourish.

© Tony Cox/ WTML

Reconnect with your woods

Whether you’re on a walk with the family, wildlife spotting or getting some fresh air on your lunch break, connecting with your local woods is the first step to protecting their future. What will you discover on your doorstep?