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Special Areas of Conservation

9120 Atlantic acidophilous beech forests with Ilex and sometimes also Taxus in the shrublayer (Quercion robori-petraeae or Ilici-Fagenion)


Description and ecological characteristics

This Annex I type comprises beech Fagus sylvatica forests with holly Ilex, growing on acid soils, in a humid Atlantic climate. Sites of this habitat type often are, or were, managed as wood-pasture systems, in which pollarding of beech and oak Quercus spp. was common. This is known to prolong the life of these trees.

This habitat occurs on acid soils and falls within two NVC types:

  • W14  Fagus sylvatica – Rubus fruticosus woodland
  • W15  Fagus sylvatica – Deschampsia flexuosa woodland

Typical species include holly Ilex aquifolium, bracken Pteridium aquilinum and bramble Rubus fruticosus, with wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa in the most acidic areas. Epiphyte richness is a key factor in defining hyper-Atlantic forms of this Annex I type, although the Interpretation manual of European habitats (European Commission DG Environment 1999) also accommodates stands less rich in epiphytes.

British stands of this woodland type tend to contain a higher proportion of veteran trees than examples found in other parts of Europe. The biodiversity of many sites is enriched by the presence of assemblages of epiphytic lichens or saproxylic invertebrates. Notable species include lichens such as Agonimia octospra and invertebrates such as the beetle Diplocoelus fagi. The moss Zygodon forsteri is also strongly associated with this habitat in the UK.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 9120 Atlantic acidophilous beech forests with Ilex and sometimes also Taxus in the shrublayer (Quercion robori-petraeae or Ilici-Fagenion). Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

This Annex I type is largely restricted by climatic factors to the western seaboard of Europe. It is extensive in the Armorican massifs of France and in northern Spain. There are close associations between the British examples and those found in Brittany and western Normandy.

UK status and distribution

In the UK the native range of this Annex I type is restricted, and extensive stands on acid sites are rare outside south-east England. However, some notable outliers occur in south Wales.

Click here view UK distribution of this species

Site accounts

  • Burnham Beeches Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
    Burnham Beeches is an example of Atlantic acidophilous beech forests in central southern England. It is an extensive area of former beech wood-pasture with many old pollards and associated beech Fagus sylvatica and oak Quercus spp. high forest. Surveys have shown that it is one of the richest sites for saproxylic invertebrates in the UK, including 14 Red Data Book species. It also retains nationally important epiphytic communities, including the moss Zygodon forsteri.
  • Ebernoe Common Surrey, East and West Sussex
    Ebernoe Common has an extensive block of beech Fagus sylvatica high forest and former wood-pasture over dense holly Ilex aquifolium, and has a very rich epiphytic lichen flora, including Agonimia octospora and Catillaria atropurpurea. It represents Atlantic acidophilous beech forests in the south-eastern part of the habitat’s UK range. The beech woodland is associated with other woodland types, open glades and pools, which contribute to a high overall diversity. The woods are important for a number of bat species, in particular 1323 Bechstein’s bat Myotis bechsteinii and 1308 barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus.
  • Epping Forest Essex, Outer London
    Epping Forest represents Atlantic acidophilous beech forests in the north-eastern part of the habitat’s UK range. Although the epiphytes at this site have declined, largely as a result of air pollution, it remains important for a range of rare species, including the moss Zygodon forsteri. The long history of pollarding, and resultant large number of veteran trees, ensures that the site is also rich in fungi and dead-wood invertebrates.
  • The Mens Surrey, East and West Sussex
    The Mens is an extensive area of mature beech Fagus sylvatica woodland rich in lichens, bryophytes, fungi and saproxylic invertebrates, and is one of the largest tracts of Atlantic acidophilous beech forests in the south-eastern part of the habitat’s UK range. It is developing a near-natural high forest structure, in response to only limited silvicultural intervention over the 20th century, combined with the effects of natural events such as the 1987 great storm.
  • The New Forest Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
    The New Forest is the largest area of mature, semi-natural beech Fagus sylvatica woodland in Britain and represents Atlantic acidophilous beech forests in the most southerly part of the habitat’s UK range. The mosaic with other types of woodland and heath has allowed unique and varied assemblages of epiphytic lichens and saproxylic invertebrates to be sustained, particularly in situations where the woodland is open and the tree trunks receive plenty of light. The traditional common grazing in the Forest by cattle and ponies provides opportunities to explore the impact of large herbivores on the woodland system.

SACs where this Annex I habitat is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.