Once they dominated much of the landscape but after centuries of deforestation their dwindling remains – just two per cent of the original – are now believed to be facing an existential threat from a combination of factors, including climate change, the planting of non-native species, and artificially high numbers of deer.
After an extensive survey, Steve Micklewright, chief executive of the charity Trees for Life, said the “majority of the surviving fragments are now on a knife-edge, and bold action is needed to save them from being lost forever”. He called for a major effort “to save... these precious woodlands before it is too late”.
Trying to preserve the pinewoods, important habitats for animals like the red squirrel, is a commendable aim. For example, in places where the steepness of a hillside means trees cannot ‘migrate’ quickly enough through seed dispersal to higher, cooler climes – with the pace set by rising temperatures – it makes sense to provide a little outside help.
However, ultimately the process of climate change means that some native plants and animals will become foreigners in their own land. There will be species that adapt and survive, others will become locally extinct, while new ones will arrive, a chaotic process that is unlikely to be smooth as interconnected ecosystems are torn apart.
Such a monumental change, undoing in a few decades what nature has sustained for millennia, is one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch in Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history, named the Anthropocene for the all-encompassing impact of just one species – us.