Locating the historic woodlands of Scotland

9 January 2024

Zulu Ecosystems and National Library of Scotland collaborate to digitally map ancient woodlands from 180 years ago for the first time.

A landmark project has created one of the most comprehensive digital records of historic Scottish woodlands dating back 180 years. 

The collaboration between The National Library of Scotland and Zulu Ecosystems has used machine learning to create a new digital layer which extracts all the woodland on the Ordnance Survey 1st edition maps, dating back to the 1840s.

The result - the OS First Series Woodland Layer – accurately pinpoints the locations and extents of these historic woods and is available to view on the NLS website from today. The project is open for collaboration - and the public is invited to contribute to the improvement of the layer by highlighting any missing woodlands. The identified changes will refine the layer ahead of its general availability.

Edward Asseily, CEO of Zulu Ecosystems, said, “The 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps published in the late 19th Century are a precious resource for locating areas of ancient woodland. Previously, government agencies, woodland conservationists, and land managers have had to manually identify individual areas of woodland shown on these early maps.  Now, we have a single digital layer showing Scotland's ancient woodlands.

Once the layer has been refined, it will be freely downloadable to the public. Identifying these historic woods is crucial to understanding the scale of their decline so that we can accelerate their revival.”

Ordnance Survey Six-Inch 1st edition maps (1843-1882)
Present-day satellite imagery, the National Library of Scotland

The value of Ancient Woodlands

Ancient woodlands are integral to Scotland’s history, culture and ecology. Their rich biodiversity and complex soil structure help support ecosystem connectivity and are important to fighting the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. However, they have suffered from overgrazing, deforestation and a changing climate, and together, these factors have led to their increasing decline.

Edward Asseily, CEO of Zulu Ecosystems, comments, “This window to our past helps to identify and prioritise areas with the highest potential for natural regeneration and shows where interventions are urgently needed to restore these once-thriving ecosystems. It also opens up new avenues for landowners to participate in woodland regeneration: Lost Woods are now eligible for carbon credits under the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC), another incentive for landowners and other stakeholders to regenerate nature at scale.”


How we created the OS First Series Woodland Layer

For this project, we extracted details of the woodland recorded in the NLS’s OS 6-inch 1st Edition Scotland maps (1843-1882), using the historic symbology used to classify deciduous woods, fir plantations and mixed woods.

We then refined this data through a combination of machine learning (ML), post-processing techniques and manual verification to ensure accuracy across a large scale. When compared to present-day satellite imagery, it clearly shows the areas where ancient woodlands once stood. 

We have developed and donated this open access layer to contribute towards the conservation and protection of ancient woodland in Scotland.

Chris Fleet from the National Library of Scotland commented “We are very keen to share information from our map collections, and this collaboration has created an important new dataset showing woodland on Ordnance Survey 1st edition six-inch maps. We hope that the refinement and improvement of this woodland layer before its release as an open dataset will assist the wide range of people today who are interested in Scotland’s historic woodland.


Zulu Ecosystems: Using technology to accelerate their revival

At Zulu Ecosystems, we’re committed to take action to resolve the plight of Lost Woods. Combining the latest science, econometric models and land data, with in-house land management and Lost Woods expertise, we support landowners to evaluate, finance and deliver Lost Woods regeneration projects at the landscape or estate level.

Zulu Ecosystems' approach to regenerating Lost Woods is low-input and a low-risk way of achieving maximum gains for climate and nature. Key benefits include: 

  • Reduced implementation costs: the trees are already established and will thrive once grazing pressure is reduced
  • Projects can be validated as soon as fencing is complete, so carbon revenues can be recognised earlier than with woodland creation schemes.
  • Strong natural capital outcomes and premium biodiversity benefits - that are even more attractive to corporate investors.


Contact us

For more information on how to regenerate Lost Woods as a landowner or a volunteer, please contact

To explore and collaborate in the OS First Series Woodland Layer, locate ancient woodland in Scotland and compare it to today’s coverage, find out more here.

Written by
Ed Asseily
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