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Woods 'save plants from climate risks'
OXFORD University’s world famous Wytham Woods help to protect plants on the ground from the effects of global warming, a new study has revealed.
The international study, led by Belgian scientists from Ghent University, found that thick forests such as Wytham Woods can lessen the impact of soaring temperatures.
However, there are concerns that the spread of a tree disease could harm the woods and their ability to protect the species.
Dr Keith Kirby, of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, said: “We believe that the effect of the tree canopy is to moderate changes in temperature at the lower levels in the wood – particularly where woods have been becoming denser and shadier in recent years.”
As the planet warms, the general trend is for species adapted to survive at higher temperatures to thrive at the expense of those more suited to cooler climates.
But when researchers compared plant species from 29 European and North American forests across the last few decades, they found thick forests can slow, or even reverse, this trend.
Wytham Woods, which have been owned by Oxford University since 1942, was one of the forests where plant life had not responded to rising average temperatures.
The woods, which span 415 hectares to the west of Oxford, are one of the most studied areas of woodland in the world.
The tree disease ash dieback has ravaged European forests and gloomy predictions say it could affect a third of trees in Britain.
Its possible spread across Wytham Woods would harm the trees and their ability to fight off the effects of global warming.
But Dr Kirby, who contributed data and analysis from the plots in Wytham Woods, said: “We have found no traces of ash dieback in Wytham so far, but large chunks of the woods are 60-70 per cent ash.
“If the disease were to spread to the area, we could lose great swathes of the tree cover.”
Steward of Wytham Woods Nigel Fisher said: “The study has shown that Wytham Woods help slow the progress of climate change.
“While that is good news, climate change is still a concern.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It used data from more than 1,400 plots from 29 forests across Europe and North America, taken at intervals of between 12 to 67 years.