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What are forests and woodlands?

There are lots of definitions for management and political purposes but it is useful to have a good general understanding so that we can talk about the distinctive values that these places have.

Originally the word VOORST described the property of a king or tribe. Before 1000 A.D it came to mean royal woods in which the king reserved rights to hunt but other rights e.g., woodcutting remained free. Eventually all other rights were restricted to the king and the lands were subjected to forest laws. Examples are the FOREST OF DEAN, SHERWOOD and THE NEW FOREST in England. Here in Ireland wooded areas were the property of the clan and protected by the Brehon laws.

As royalty declined forests came to mean areas of tree growth in contrast to prairies moorlands and fields. This further developed into woodlands tended by man for timber growing and other forest products. With a better understanding of plant and environmental science, the current conception of a forest is a habitat of tree or shrub species, which have environmental or economic significance.

To put some figures on it we usually understand forests to have at least some 20% continuous tree cover over 5m high.

There can be confusion between the idea of FORESTS and WOODLANDS. Basically they are one and the same but a common perception sees FORESTS as extensive continuous areas of trees important for the timber resource and WOODLANDS as small areas of diverse indigenous species where environmental or recreational values may take priority over commercial ones. The reality is that there are so many exceptions to these definitions as to make the terms interchangeable. We can talk about the FOREST of Dean or the Tropical RAIN FORESTS or estate or commercial WOODLANDS. If anything you can usually confine the term WOODLAND to smaller areas of forest.