Bluebells at NWT Wayland Wood by Richard Osbourne 1/3
Carr woodland by Richard Osbourne 2/3
NWT Foxley Wood by Richard Osbourne 3/3


Put simply, broad-leaved woodland is the natural habitat of Norfolk. It’s the principal habitat that covered what’s now Norfolk from the retreat of the Devensian Glaciation, some 12,000 years ago, until Bronze Age people undertook the massive-scale deforestation of the landscape from around 5,000 years ago. Of course, what we recognise as broad-leaved woodland in the modern landscape is both natural and cultural in origin. For centuries, until early in the 20th century, country people relied on woods for natural resources, both for their own use and for trade. Woods were managed to produce timber for construction, wood for burning and making hurdles, fruit, fungi, forage for livestock, and game for meat and skins. As a result of such management, woods have developed a shape and feel and a host of wildlife denizens that we culturally perceive as typical of them.
In the 20th century interest dwindled in managing woodland for a wide range of products and many broad-leaved woods were converted to conifer plantations, with a resultant loss of biodiversity. Today, nature conservation organisations and private landowners better understand the value of traditionally managed woods, for people and for wildlife, and many are restoring them to their past beauty, productivity and recreational value.
Broad-leaved woods, being the natural habitat of most of Norfolk, and the most structurally diverse, are also the most biologically diverse terrestrial habitat. They are superb places for watching birds and for finding rare plants and insects. Many species of plant, which are fussy and will only persist in historic woods, are referred to as ancient woodland indicators. These include bluebell, early purple orchid, yellow archangel, wood anemone and wood sorrel.
Many types of woodland are recognised. In Norfolk among the principal types of native broad-leaved woodland are: ancient woodland, which is known to have existed for centuries and which in consequence has offered continual refuge to rare plant and animal species; woodlands on light, sandy soils, such as in West Norfolk and along the Holt-Cromer Ridge, which recolonise when heathland is left unmanaged and are typically dominated by silver birch, rowan, beech and holly; and carr woodland, which is the seasonally flooded woodland of river valleys, particularly in Broadland, the Brecks and the Wensum, and which is largely composed of alder, willows and shrubs including guelder rose and blackcurrant. Each woodland type has its own characteristic range of flowers, invertebrates and vertebrates.
Humans have played a large role in the development of woods in Norfolk and large areas of the county, especially in Breckland, are now covered by non-native conifer plantations. Though much less biologically diverse than native woods, these are nonetheless home to many invertebrate species and to scarce vertebrates such as crossbills, goshawks and long-eared owls. Where conifers have been felled and young trees are planted nightjars, tree pipits and woodlarks may all be found.


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