New woodland establishment can be complex and this guide is meant as an introduction only. Please contact us if you would like further assistance.
Looking up at some bright, young trees

In Cumbria we have nearly 10% woodland cover which is close to the national average. However there is always potential to increase this and woodland creation is desirable for habitat creation, timber production, public benefit and as a carbon sink. There may be a debate to be had about afforesting productive agricultural land when we have an expanding population that needs to be fed.

Site selection

Site selection is the most important consideration when planning new woods. Even the most productive farms have room for shelter belts and wet corners to be planted with trees. From an ecological point of view though, you need to be sure that you are not going to damage diverse grassland or wetland sites that are thriving under the current management regime. The most positive and rewarding woodland creation is perhaps where you can link up existing woods to create ‘wildlife corridors’ often utilising land that has been previously wooded and still shows signs of the woodland ground flora even if the trees are long gone. These will respond quickly to a developing woodland and naturally establish a range of woodland species within them. If you do just have a pretty basic improved grassland site and want to create a diverse native woodland, though don’t despair, the developing canopy will shade out the rank grasses and you can always introduce woodland plants at a later date. High nutrient levels in the soil will be the most limiting factor on these sites and preparation involving no animals and grass cutting and removal will reduce the fertility before planting. If timber production is your aim then the nutrients will aid growth.

Natural regeneration

Just removing grazing and browsing stock and providing sufficient overhead light, may be sufficient for seeds in the soil to germinate and provide a new generation of trees. Circumstances where this is less likely to succeed are:

  • Where there is no seed source present or nearby
  • When the grass sward is too dense for small seedlings to make it through (scarification can help with this)

If conditions are right though trees established by natural regeneration can often be more vigorous initially and establish quickly, be randomly spaced and of local provenance without any effort what-so-ever.


Where you want a different species to those present in the natural environment or an improved strain or to change the balance of species then planting will be needed.

Species selection

The range of choice of trees to plant is huge and yet we still have the situation where production forestry relies on just one species of choice, the Sitka spruce (50% of conifer planted) as this is the most marketable of timbers and the one that at present the timber processors want. At the other end of the scale you may wish to grow native trees restricting you to trees that were established here through natural processes following the retreat of the ice age. Both these approaches limit your choice of trees and leave woodlands vulnerable to tree diseases and climate change.


In forestry terms this means choosing multiple species (either in an intimate mix or in blocks) and managing your woods to have maximum diversity of structure. This is achieved by avoiding single age, single height woodlands and even anticipating what will grow best in a situation when the climate has warmed by anything from 1 to 6 degrees centigrade.


The site will need to be stock proof and even perhaps deer proof. Individual trees can be protected with tubes and stakes but these are quite unsightly and not always the best for tree health with bark damage and strangulation a problem if the wood is not maintained properly. Small mammals such as rabbits and voles can be very destructive and spirals can help in this situation or rabbit fencing erected if the problem is severe.


Do not attempt to plant trees within an existing woodland unless you have a wide canopy gap to fill. Canopy gaps should be at least 1 ½ times the height of the surrounding trees across to avoid shading.


A well-designed new woodland should include rides, open space and shrub species to create a diverse structure and variety of habitats. Conifer planting should be kept well back from water courses.


The standard Forestry Commission grant-aided woodland has 2250 trees per ha or spacing between trees of 2m rising to a maximum of 2.5m (1600/ha). This can be reduced down to 1.5m spacing if you are establishing a coppiced woodland or increased up to 3m spacing in some circumstances. Commercial woodlands are normally planted in lines to aid management but new native woodlands are often planted at a more variable pattern and spacing.

Weed control

It is vital to weed your trees to achieve successful establishment. You may not want to resort to using herbicides to control grass and weed growth but the alternatives of mulching or hand weeding are not realistic on a large scale. However, three years of keeping vigorous grass growth under control using a well tried and tested herbicide such as Glyphosate once a year, will do very little to harm wildlife.

Grant funding for tree planting see here 

Woodland Grants in Cumbria 2021 

See our guide to Woodland Grants in Cumbria 2021.

West Cumbria Water Supplies Planting Fund

If you want to plant trees, hedges or woodlands in West Cumbria, United Utilities have funds available for the planting of trees, hedges and woodlands in the valleys surrounding the West Cumbria Water Supplies Project. The fund has been established to off-set the loss of trees and woodland as a result of the West Cumbria Water Supplies project construction. The funding can be used for plants, planting, fencing and materials to protect the planting along with support for work to involve local communities where appropriate.

Your scheme needs to do the following:
• Fit with the landscape – fit the existing pattern and landform, reinforcing local landscape character
• Benefit wildlife – enhancing the local area for wildlife by connecting and increasing suitable woodland and tree habitat
• Protect the environment – by retaining soils and avoiding runoff that can harm local streams and rivers.
• Involve and engage the local community – supporting action by local communities to improve and enhance their local landscapes

Cumbria Woodlands will work with land owners and communities to help them develop their ideas for schemes to plant new trees, hedges and woodlands. Please contact us on 01539 822140 or email if you want to discuss your ideas and arrange a visit.

More details on the West Cumbria Water Supplies Planting Fund in the pdf document at the bottom of this page.

Our clients say…

  • On another note, can I thank all at Cumbria Woodlands for the excellent tree, woodland and timber training that we are currently enjoying.