Differentiate between broad leaved and coniferous woodland ecosystems

This post is part of the series Forest School Portfolio

Do you know the difference between broad-leaved and coniferous woodland? As part of your Forest School portfolio you’ll need to explain, in your own words, the key differences between these two types of woodland. As part of your Forest School site survey it would be useful to identify the species of tree and state whether they are broad leaf or coniferous.

Broad Leaf Woodland

Broad leaf refers to trees with leaves that are flat and wide and not needle like. Broad leaf woodlands are those that are made up predominantly of trees with leaves which, whilst they vary in size and shape, are not needle like. Broad leaf woodlands are the traditional British woodland though there is now little left of Britain’s ancient woodland. Most tree species found in broad leaf woodlands are native to Britain. The most common are Oak (Sessile and Pedunculate) and Birch (Silver and Downy) but Ash, Sycamore and Beech are also widespread.

Most trees in broad leaf woods are deciduous though some, such as Holly, are evergreen. As most trees lose their leaves every autumn the appearance of the woodland changes drastically depending on the season. As the leaves and other leaf litter decompose nutrients are released into the soil. The fallen leaves also provide nesting materials for birds and animals and hiding places for insects. As the canopy is bare for several months greater light levels will reach the ground before the trees regrow their leaves. This gives species in the other woodland layers a greater chance to grow, flower and seed.

As well as providing habitats for hundreds and thousands of species of plant, animal and insect broad leaf woodlands play a crucial role is soaking up some of the regular large downpours we get in this country and their presence can prevent or limit damage caused by flooding.

Coniferous Woodland

Conifers are trees with scale like leaves or needles. Coniferous woodland is made up predominantly of trees with needle-like leaves. Most species of conifer are evergreen so the appearance of coniferous woodland through the seasons does not change as much as with broad leaf woodland.

As well as being identified by their distinctive leaves or needles conifers have a distinctive profile as most conifer trees tend to grow up instead of out. The only conifers recognised as being native to Britain are Yew, Juniper and Scots Pine. Many coniferous woodlands are now dominated by non-native species such as Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce.

Many coniferous woodlands are planted for timber production and competing species are removed. This results in the woodland having little variety of tree species. Whilst most broad lead woodland is characterised by the species of tree present most coniferous woodland is characterised by the density of the tree planting and the topography of the land.

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