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Fineshade as SSSI? ... woodlands

Part 2, Chapter 2a: Woodlands, can be downloaded here:


Ancient Woodland indicators
Far Markham's Wood

Beech plantation on AW site.

Buxton Wood, Fineshade

With an area of 313 ha, the Fineshade Wood complex is one of the largest sections of the remaining Rockingham Forest without statutory protection.

This page draws upon this document from the Joint Nature Conservation Committeee:


Guidelines for the Selection of Biological SSSIs

Part 2: Detailed Guidelines for Habitats and Species Groups

Chapter 2a Woodlands


This document, which has 26 pages, is subject to revision with the revised guidelines now marked as possibly not completed by end of 2016 (as at 31 March 2016). They were originally due to be published in winter 2015 - spring 2016. 

Ancient semi-natural woodland


The phrase used by the Forestry Commission (FC) to describe Fineshade on its website and elsewhere is “ancient semi-natural woodland”.  The introduction to the guidelines emphasises the value of the small remaining amounts of this type of woodland especially in areas such as Northamptonshire. Here are two quotes.

1.3.  There is great regional variation in the size and extent of the surviving ancient semi-natural woodland. In parts of south-east England it is the main woodland type and still covers much of the landscape. Elsewhere in the lowlands, ancient woods tend to be small, isolated and surrounded by agricultural land.


1.5  Ancient semi-natural woodland occupies less than 2% of Britain's land surface. While some plantations on ancient woodland sites and other long- established woods may retain or have developed some semi-natural characteristics, all these three kinds of woodland together can hold but a fraction of the variety of woodland types and wildlife contained in the original forest. It is, therefore, strongly argued that all such woods should be conserved (Game & Peterken 1984). The total area of ancient semi-natural and other woodland selected as SSSIs in each AOS should be sufficient to protect an adequate extent of, as well as the full range of variation in, native woodland communities and features against future threats, independently of other land-use policies.

In the quote above, AOS refers to “Area of Search” which we understand in Fineshade’s case to be Rockingham Forest.  With an area of 497 ha, the Fineshade Wood complex is  the largest section of the remaining Rockingham Forest without statutory protection. Large parts of it are Ancient Woodland including some recently designated areas that have been added to the AW Inventory (full details here). Many of the post-war conifer plantations on Ancient Woodland sites have been cleared and are regenerating well under the Forestry Commission’s Ancient Woodland Project (though we notice in early 2018 that since FC offered the wood to Forest Holidays under an “exclusivity agreement” in 2012, no further conifer clearance has taken place.) Within Fineshade there is a variety of woodland and plantation types including some that are very unusual in Northants, for example a Beech plantation on an AW site in Buxton Wood and a stand of fine Alder coppice alongside the stream on the NW boundary of the site. 


Also note that the final sentence of section 1.5 quoted above from the 1989 guidelines exhibits an adherence to the "exemplary site principle" rather than the "critical standard principle" as recommended in the 2013 revision of Part 1 of the guidleines. Please see this page where we examine this change of emphasis in more detail.  

Habitat selection


Section 3 of the guidelines deals with habitat selection requirements and section 3.3.1 points out that county Ancient Woodland Inventories provide a useful starting point for judging present and future SSSI selection.  As stated, much of Fineshade has long been recognized as either “Ancient or semi-natural woodland” or “Ancient Replanted Woodland”.  In addition the recent report by Neil Sanderson, Notes on the Status of Woodland at Fineshade, Northamptonshire, which studied a section of the northern part of the wood, found that it was a mosaic of areas of Ancient Woodland (now added to the AWI) and other 17th century (and therefore “recent”) plantations. (More details here.)


Section 3.3.2 of the 1989 guidelines points out that plantations on AW sites can be most important, particularly where those plantations have themselves been there for hundreds of years.


3.3.2 Plantations on ancient woodland sites are important where they have allowed survival of significant elements of the original woodland ecosystem which are now less well represented in semi-natural woods. For example, the rides in some recent plantations on ancient woodland sites have retained a rich flora and fauna, as in Bernwood Forest.

We believe that many of the recent records of flora and fauna that have been coming to light here show that Fineshade Wood has also retained a species richness similar to Bernwood’s. For example, by February 2018 a total of 1678 species have been recorded, making it probably the Forestry Commission woodland with the highest recorded biodiversity


For Fineshade much of section 3.4 of the guidelines, Judging the quality of stands and sites, is of the utmost importance. We draw attention particularly to the following statement.

3.4.1 A basic presumption is that the NCC should seek to protect the largest areas available of all the major types in an AOS so that the largest possible populations of the species associated with each type can be protected.

The very positive effects of the FC's Ancient Woodland Project are now beginning to come to light

Regenerating woodland
Westhay Wood

We repeat, Fineshade is one of the largest remaining areas in the Rockingham Forest AOS. Therefore, even using the "exemplary site principle", Fineshade is SSSI-worthy.


Implications of incomplete knowledge


Fineshade Wood has been the subject of immense change in the last 20-30 years. The very positive effects of the FC’s Ancient Woodland Project are now beginning to come to light, not least because of the efforts of Forest Holidays’ ecological surveyors.


The guidelines point out that

3.6.1 It is expected that the number and extent of woodland SSSIs will increase in future as more woods are found which are of a quality similar to or higher than existing SSSIs.

Fineshade is a prime example of exactly this – if it was overlooked for SSSI status before, it should certainly be notified now.


The importance of size


Probably the guideline which provides the strongest level of support for designating the Fineshade Wood complex, even if using the  "exemplary site principle", is here:

4.6 The excessive fragmentation of most ancient semi-natural woodland in Britain means that there should be a strong presumption towards selecting any very large areas that remain, regardless of their type, because it is only in such areas that the full range of woodland processes may be observed. In the relatively well-wooded areas of southern England this applies to reasonably compact blocks of more than 200 ha, but elsewhere to semi-natural blocks of 100 ha or more.

The area of the Fineshade Wood complex is 497 ha, at least twice the suggested guide areas.


Finally, since Northamptonshire is acknowledged to be a county with little woodland (less than 5%) the following section is important.

4.8  Following the above prescriptions will lead, in most AOSs, to about 20% (range 10-40%) of the area of ancient semi-natural woodland being selected. There may, however, be a need also for 'species' sites containing woodland or for areas of recent semi-natural woodland. These are neither target percentages nor limits, but an indication of the level of representation that current experience within the NCC suggests is necessary. In very poorly wooded areas the figure may rise to 100% of the semi-natural woodland (both ancient and recent). 

Here, in the 1989 guidelines, we get a foretaste of the “critical standard principle” laid out more fully in Part 1 of the revised guidelines (2013). (See here.)


We believe that, even using the guidelines that are now 26 years old, there is a strong case for notifying Fineshade Wood as a SSSI.



Even if the 1989 guidelines are used (and the exemplary site principle) Fineshade's Woodlands are SSSI-worthy.  Using the 2013 revised criteria (and the critical standard principle) SSSI notification should be certain

This page checked and updated February 2018

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