What is a habitat?

              A habitat is a place where plants and animals live. All living things need food, water and shelter to survive and a good habitat will provide these.  Different plants and animals live in different habitats and they are usually named after features of their location. Examples of habitats include a woodland habitat, a desert habitat or an urban habitat. The particular conditions in each habitat, including temperature, levels of rainfall and amount of light, make that habitat suited to certain plants and animals.  

European mole


Scientific Name: 
Talpa europaea

Average Life Span: 2– 3 years

Diet: small invertebrate animals living underground such as earthworms and the larvae of beetles and flies.

Habitat:   Lives mostly underground in pasture, woodland and gardens. The mole’s habitat is very different to woodland creatures that live above ground. It is adapted to digging (strong and short forelimbs) and lives primarily underground. They tolerate the lower level of oxygen in burrows, and have limited eyesight as they spend most of their time in the dark.

Mole facts

  • Moles are small mammals that spend most of their time underground. They are hairless with small eyes and on average grow between 11.3 to 15.9 centimetres. It is a common misconception that moles are blind, they are colourblind though and have poor vision. Instead they use movement and scent to move around their tunnels and find prey.
  • Moles can live in a variety of different areas; grasslands, farmland, woodlands and even urban areas. If there is a large amount of soil then a mole can thrive as it has the space to dig it’s underground tunnels.
  • As they spend most of their time underground they have both permanent and semi-permanent tunnel systems. Tunnels closer to the surface are non sustainable as they can concave, however in these tunnels they find more of their prey which consists mainly of earthworms (they can eat roughly their own body weight).
  • It is a lot more common to see a mole hill rather than a mole itself, this is because when they create their tunnels they force all the unwanted soil up a shaft and on to the surface above.
  • Their permanent tunnels and chambers are more sustainable as they are further underground and therefore they are used to sleep and to store food. In these tunnel systems they dig chambers or burrows which are used for different purposes; bedrooms, nurseries, kitchens etc. Living underground means that there is less O², moles have adapted to reuse the breath they exhale and therefore conserve their oxygen.
  • As solitary animals, males have to widen their tunnels into other territories in order to find a female. Their average lifespans are 2.5 to 3 years, so moles have to grow up quickly, at around five to six weeks pups leave the nest and start their own tunnel systems in their own territories.

Every living thing has features and characteristics that make them better suited to living in certain conditions and environments. These are called adaptations. Some animals have very specific needs for their habitat, others can continue to adapt and change to new habitats. For example, see how two species of fox have adapted to their different habitats

What woodland habitats are there?

              Woodland is a large habitat made of lots of trees growing closely together. There are also many different types of woodland in the UK, all of which have different conditions and ecosystems. You will find different plants and animals in thick forests, orchards, parkland, urban trees and within the scattered trees of grassland. The characteristics of a woodland are shaped over many years by different climate conditions, the ground and soil, the trees and plants that grow and the animals that come to live there.

Each habitat has a structure, where conditions vary in different parts of the habitat, and different plants and animals are suited to each part. 

Within a habitat there are smaller habitats called microhabitats. A tree itself can be a habitat for small plants (such as mosses and lichens) and also for small animals. A tree also includes several smaller habitats such as the bark, or even mosses living on the bark. The leaves that fall on the ground form a litter which becomes a habitat for creatures such as millipedes. Each microhabitat can have its own microclimate which is different to the larger habitat. For example, there is more moisture and shade in the bark of a tree than the larger tree or woodland habitat. 

Oak tree habitats

Oak tree and leaves, Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire

Oak trees support over 300 species of wildlife – many which only live or eat from oak. Birds and animals eat the acorns, and caterpillars eat the leaves. Within the tree bark many invertebrates can live, and bats and birds can nest in holes in the tree.

Oak canopy, Bernwood Forest, Oxfordshire

Oak trees are tall, broadleaved trees which form part of the canopy in the woodland structure.

There are several types of oak tree (Quercus) and they can grow from 20 metres to 40 metres tall. The English Oak is the second most common tree in the UK, after the Beech. Other varieties include the Red Oak, the Holm Oak, the Turkish Oak and the Sessile Oak.

Sessile Oak leaves


Scientific name: Quercus petraea

Invertebrates and fungi can also live in and feed from the fallen oak leaves.

One animal that lives in oaks is the woodpecker. The Great Spotted Woodpecker has a thick, strong beak that it uses to drum into the wood of trees, particularly oak trees and pine trees. Woodpecker skulls have adapted to be shock-absorbing to endure the drumming on wood. They hammer into the wood to get at insects living in the bark. They also use their beaks to create spaces in the bark to nest in. Males indicate their territory by drumming on the wood.

Great Spotted Woodpecker


Scientific name: Dendrocopos major

Average life span: 2-5 years

Diet: Insects, seeds, birds eggs and chicks

Habitat: Mainly woodlands, though some have settled in areas with fewer trees such as gardens.

One of two species of black and white spotted woodpecker in the UK, the Great Spotted Woodpecker is distinguishable from the bright red feathers underneath its tail.

Pick a woodland animal.

Think about these questions to understand more about its habitat and adaptations.

  • What does it eat?
  • What senses are useful in the woodland?
  •  Is it camouflaged?
  •  How does it move around safely in the day/at night?
  •  How does it communicate with others?
  •  How does it keep warm at night?
  •  Where does it live? In trees? Burrows? Underground?
  •  How big is it?

To consider:

Why are habitats important?

What impacts habitats?

How can we sustain woodland habitats?

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