Thousands of years ago pristine forests existed all over Europe and shaped the daily life of people in prehistoric times. Oak was the most common tree in these areas.
There are more or less three main species which charcterise an oakwood: The most common is sessile oak Quercus petraea, followed by the pedunculate oak Quercus robur and downy birch Betula pubescens. Within Northern Ireland this type of woodland is found mostly in the north east, on less base-rich soils, in rocky and wet locations. It is estimated that in Northern Ireland there is about 2,350 ha Oakwood.
Oaks can live more than 500 years, with the production of acorns taking up to 80 years.
After the last Ice age, more than 12.000 years ago, the climate warmed up and became more suitable for colonisation, with the first oaks starting to germinate around 7000BC.
During the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages trees were used to create tools for tree-felling and agriculture, weapons and manufacture. There is evidence that oak trees were used in Northern Ireland more than 9000 years ago. The trunk was used for coffins, houses, churches, ships, to make coal for iron melting, and the bark was used for tanning leather. Woodlands during this time were carefully managed as they were useful for so many things.
At the beginning of the 1900’s many woodlands fell into disuse as other materials began to take over from wood, and the traditional management which had kept the woodlands healthy ceased.
Oak trees are particularly important for the wildlife and plantlife in woodlands - supporting over 350 different species of insect, (much more than any other tree) as well as an abundance of lower plants such as fungi, ferns, mosses and lichens. On the ground layer flowers like bluebell, wood anemone, primrose and other species are linked to oak woodlands.