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We’re still enjoying learning about the forest, and while I do wonder why we didn’t think to do this back in the summer when the days were dry and somewhat warmer, we’ve still been enjoying learning about the forest habitat and all the magic of life in the forest. One of the things we’ve been learning about are the layers of the forest.

Here’s a brief rundown to save you having to Google it for yourself:

The forest is divided into six layers. Each layer has it’s own wildlife and serves different functions depending on what is present in that layer. For the curious, this layering is officially called Stratification.

  • The top layer, the emergent layer, are trees that stick out higher than the rest. This is more prevalent in the rainforest, but this is the layer where birds of prey might rest or nest.
  • The next layer is the canopy layer. What happens in this layer more or less determines the rest of the woodland around it. More mature trees form the canopy. If the trees are predominantly, for example, Beech, the leaves create such an effective patchword and are angled to catch the maximum amount of light, that they cast a very dense shade. This allows few plants to survive underneath. Ash, by contrast, with its finely divided leaves, allows more light through to the woodland floor, so that layers are more likely to develop. In this layer you’ll find small mammal nests, such as dreys for squirrels, or bird nests.
  • The next layer, the understory, is where you’ll find younger trees growing from the seeds of the larger trees in the canopy. Here you’ll also find smaller trees like Hawthorn and Rowan and shrubs which are adapted to grow under lower light conditions – like Hazel. These characteristic understorey trees sometimes have a sprawling sideways growth form that enables them to increase the surface area available to trap light filtering through the upper canopy.
  • The shrub layer needs sun and little moisture which it receives filtered by the canopy. Small to medium-sized birds are often found in the shrub layer where their nests are protected by foliage – for example robins that nest in Holly. Plants such as elder, hazel, hawthorn, raspberry and blackberry are examples of the shrub layer. At the edge of a woodland the shrub layer acts as a windbreak close to the trees and protects the soil from drying out.
  • Below this is the herb layer. The herb layer consists of various herbaceous plants, grasses, dwarf shrubs and young shrubs. In forests, early flowering plants appear first before the canopy fills out. The amount of light available to plants is significantly reduced and only those that are suited to such conditions can thrive. Here you’ll find your spring flowers, like dandelions, and a number of early pollinators that insects will feed on.
  • The forest floor, otherwise called the recycling layer is covered by a layer of dead plant and animal material. In this layer and the underlying few centimetres of the topsoil live innumerable small soil organisms such as bacteria, fungi, algae and microorganisms, which break down the dead organic substances and work them into the soil. In places the ground is covered by lichens and mosses. This layer provides nutrition for the next year’s tree growth.

You can download this worksheet for freebut you might find yourself added to a newsletter, should I ever get into the habit of sending out newsletters. By downloading it you’re agreeing to being added to the newsletter, but you’re welcome to unsubscribe at any time. 

Curriculum links:

Sc2/2.1b    identify that most living things live in habitats to which they are suited and describe how different habitats provide for the basic needs of different kinds of animals and plants, and how they depend on each other
Sc2/2.1c    identify and name a variety of plants and animals in their habitats, including microhabitats

Sc6/2.1a    describe how living things are classified into broad groups according to common observable characteristics and based on similarities and differences, including micro-organisms, plants and animals

Also have a look at our worksheets for:

Forest Spotter Guide

Wildlife in the forest layers (coming soon) 

Small mammals – footprints and food (coming soon) 

Red Squirrel Crossword Puzzle (coming soon) 

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