Forest and woodland habitats
What are forest and woodland habitats?
Forests and woodlands are places where there are mostly trees. There are many different kinds of forests in different climates, but trees are the one thing they have in common!
Forests provide everything that the creatures who live there need – food, water and shelter. Forests can be hot or cold, with different kinds of trees in different climates around the world. There are deciduous forests, coniferous forests, and rainforests – just to name a few!
Top 10 facts
- The main thing to know about forest and woodland habitats is that they are areas that have a lot of trees pretty close to each other.
- Woodlands are a little more open than forests – woodlands have space to let a bit of light in between trees, while forests have so many trees that it’s actually pretty dark when you walk around.
- Trees can grow pretty much anywhere in the world, as long as it’s in a spot that has enough water for them. Because of that, forest habitats can be very different depending where in the world they are.
- There are many different kinds of trees, but a couple of the main groups are coniferous trees and deciduous trees.
- Coniferous trees are trees that produce seeds in cones, like pine trees and spruce trees (Christmas trees!)
- Deciduous trees are trees that lose their leaves in the winter, but grow them back in the summer.
- Fruits and nuts found in the forest make a perfect meal for animals who live there, so they don’t have to search too far to find food.
- Forests also provide shelter for animals, whether it’s within the tree roots or trunks, or high up in the branches.
- Animals that live in forests and woodlands include big animals like bears, moose and deer, and smaller animals like hedgehogs, raccoons and rabbits.
- Because we use trees to make paper, we need to be careful about what that does to forest habitats. One way to care for forests is to recycle paper.
Did you know?
Forest and woodland habitats are places that have a lot of trees. If you can see more trees around you than patches of grass and open spaces, chances are you’re in a forest!
Trees grow pretty much everywhere, but not all trees are the same. Two main groups of trees are:
- Coniferous – conifers are trees that grow cones and have thin, needle-like or scaly spikes for leaves, which is where their seeds are stored; pine trees, fir trees and spruce trees are conifers (and they are the kind of trees that we decorate at Christmas!)
- Deciduous – deciduous trees have flat leaves that change colours in the autumn, fall off in the winter, and grow back in the spring; oak trees and maple trees are deciduous
You’ll mostly find forests of conifer trees along the northern parts of the world. These are also called boreal forests.
Conifer leaves stay green all year round, so they are also called evergreens (meaning ‘always green’).
Coniferous forests have short summers and long winters, so animals there need to be able to keep warm for a long time. Some birds and butterflies go south, and some animals hibernate, which means they sleep during the coldest times of the year.
Deciduous forests are dotted all over the place, but mostly along the eastern side of North America, central and northern Europe, and northeast Asia. These forests look very pretty in the autumn when all the leaves change from green to red, orange and yellow.
Deciduous forests don’t provide much shelter in the winter because all the leaves are gone from the trees. So, animals need to store up enough food for the winter, or hibernate.
Conkers are the seeds of a deciduous tree called a horse chestnut tree.
Acorns are the seeds of a deciduous tree called an oak tree.
Animals and insects who live in forest and woodland habitats rely on the trees to give them what they need – shelter, food, and protection from other creatures higher up the food chain. They also use the streams and ponds within forests to get water and (if they’re the sort of animal that eats them) fish.
Animals in grasslands have to work really hard to make shelters for themselves in the ground or find places to hide in tall grass. But, animals in forests can hide inside dead trees, around tree roots, or climb way up into the tree branches.
One way we can help care for forest and woodland habitats is to recycle paper! We get paper from trees, so the more paper we can recycle (which means making new paper from old paper), the fewer trees have to be cut down to make new paper.
You often find forests on the slopes of high mountains, but when it gets too high up the mountain and it gets too cold, the forests stops all at once. This is called the tree line. Above this line there often aren’t many plants at all – just snow and rocks.
Look through the gallery below and see if you can spot all these features of forest and woodland habitats:
- A map showing where you can find coniferous forests
- A map showing where you can find most of the forests of deciduous trees around the world (in dark green)
- The food chain in a coniferous forest
- The food chain in a deciduous forest:
- A conifer forest
- Conifer leaves
- A deciduous forest
- Black bear
- Great grey owl (it looks like the branch it’s sitting on!)
- Siberian tiger
- Tawny owl
The words ‘forest’ and ‘woodland’ mean pretty much the same thing, but there is a tiny difference. A woodland has an open canopy, meaning if you stand in the middle of a woodland and look up at the sky, you can see a bit more sky than you can leaves and branches. Forests are much more dense (there are more trees, and closer together), and if you look up at the sky you’d only just see a little bit of it in the middle of all the tree branches.
Parts of a forest are:
- The forest floor, which is where all the dead leaves and branches fall, where animals leave bits of their dinner and where mushrooms grow. It’s sometimes called the recycling layer because it’s where everything in the forest falls down, breaks down and becomes part of the ground again to help more plants and trees grow.
- Looking up a little bit, you can see the herb layer, which includes all the ferns and flowers that grow along the forest floor.
- A little above that is the shrub layer, which includes larger plants like bushes and shrubs that have woody twigs and branches.
- The understory of the forest is all the trees that are still growing – they haven’t reached the same height as most of the trees in the forest, but they’re getting there.
- The canopy is what we call the tree branches and leaves that join up with other tree branches and leaves nearby, forming something like an umbrella over the forest.
- The emergent layer is what we call trees that poke through the canopy – they’ve just kept growing faster than the trees around them, and reached up over everything else.
The leaves of deciduous trees change colour because the trees are getting ready for winter. As the weather gets colder in the autumn months, there is less light and water for trees. They begin to slow themselves down in preparation for cold winter months and stop producing food (photosynthesis). As green chlorophyll leaves the leaves, all that’s left are the red, orange and yellow colours we see around the month of October. The leaves die and fall off the tree, but the tree will grow more leaves when the weather warms up in the spring so it can start making food again.
When spring comes in deciduous forests, plants shorter than trees (like flowers on the forest floor) grow very quickly to make sure they get enough light before leaves start growing on the trees, which will stop most of the sun’s rays from coming into the forest.
The leaves on conifer trees don’t fall off in the winter – they stay on all year long. They are dark green because this helps them get the most energy from the sun even if there’s not a lot of light.
Some of the animals that you’ll find in coniferous forests are:
- Great grey owl
- Siberian tiger
Some of the animals that live in deciduous forests include:
- Duckbill platypus
- Tawny owl
- Whitetail deer
- Wood frog
Some of the insects you’ll find in coniferous forests include:
- Bark beetle
- Stink bugs
- Swallowtail butterfly
Some of the insects you’ll find in deciduous forests are:
- Luna moth
- Woodboring beetle
Some of the trees and flowers in coniferous forests are:
- Douglas fir tree
- Ponderosa pine tree
- Redwood tree
- Saskatoon berry shrub
- Thimbleberry bush
- White spruce tree
Some of the trees and flowers in deciduous forests are:
- Chestnut tree
- Elm tree
- Larch tree
- Oak tree
Words to know:
Acorn – the seed of an oak tree
Boreal – forests of conifer trees in the northern parts of the world
Cone – what conifer trees have instead of flowers; cones hold their seeds so they stay safe until they are ready to try to grow
Coniferous – trees that have spiky or scaly leaves that stay green all year round
Deciduous – trees that have broad, flat leaves that change colour in the autumn and fall off in the winter
Hibernation – a long sleep that animals take in the winter to save up energy and warmth
Just for fun...
- Spot and sort the animals you can find in a woodland habitat.
- Complete woodland puzzles on the Nature Detectives site.
- This activity book includes pictures of woodland animals to colour, a section about sorting leaves and lots of stuff about what you’ll find in the forest.
- Explore Pancake Wood and learn more about what each plant and animal needs to survive.
- Play Tree's Memory and find out about events that have happened in a tree's lifetime.
- Save Badger's Wood in this interactive game.
- Print out loads of different playing cards featuring insects, leaves, flowers and animals (produced by the Woodland Trust).
- Play Habitat Adventure: Panda Challenge! and make decisions about a fictional forest reserve using binoculars, field guides, a camera and local knowledge.
- Take a walk in a virtual forest in the USA and do field research using the scientific methodologies and tools.
- Try the BBC's Food chain challenge: Woodland
Children's books about forest and woodland habitats
See for yourself
Look at a beautiful collection of different kinds of tree bark from Roby Milling's countryside blog.
Go on a family forest walk and follow these expert tips to get the most out of it.
Find out more:
- WWF: Forest habitat
- WWF: Coniferous forests
- Deciduous forests
- A key to common trees found in Britain
- Forestry Commission: Learning resources
- Woodland Trust: the UK's leading woodland conservation charity
- Tree Tools for Schools from the Woodland Trust is packed with tree-related activities, woodland habitat activities, nature crafts and wood-themed information and worksheets