Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites

What is Ancient Woodland?

A woodland site is considered to be ancient if it has been continuously wooded since at least 1600AD. This does not mean there has been continuous woodland cover over the whole site. Open spaces, either permanent or temporary, are important elements of ancient woodland.

It contains ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW) mainly made up of trees and shrubs native to the site, usually arising from natural regeneration. When these sites are cleared and replanted, often with non-native conifers, they are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). As the name suggests, ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish and is defined as an irreplaceable habitat.

Carrie and Jamie Discuss Ancient Woodlands

This video was recorded at the 2023 Forest Festival at the Westmorland Show.

Is your Woodland Ancient?

The first step to determine whether your woodland is classed as ancient would be to look at an ancient woodland inventory, compiled using old maps, other documentary sources, and sometimes field surveys. There are also a number of ancient woodland indicator species, such as bluebells and primroses which can be considered alongside other evidence.

Explore the Ancient Woodland Inventory (on MAGIC under Habitats and Species> Woodland) to determine whether your native woodland is listed.

Case Study - Coppicing woodland products Great Lindeth Ancient Woodland Restoration

Read more about Great Lindeth and the ongoing restoration work that Cumbria Woodlands has been involved with.

Case Study: Storm Damage – An opportunity for decaying wood

In the woodland world, the aftermath of a storm can create a cocktail of danger, apprehension, sadness and fear but it can also breathe new opportunities into woodland compartments. The situation differs greatly over an affected landscape, depending on the pre-existing woodland cover, age, species, wind firmness and of course the speeds and direction of winds. An un- thinned plantation might either be flattened or escape unscathed and yet a well-thinned wood will often see further gaps appear, but one thing is certain – the opportunity to reconsider management decisions is abruptly brought forward, learning from events past...

History of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites

During the 1950s, 60s and 70s the Forestry Commission was driven to make woodlands more productive. This involved many ancient woods being planted up with exotic conifer species. This was very damaging as the light needed by native species was no longer available under the dense conifer canopy.

During recent years, we have been assessing PAWS sites and helping owners and agents to sensitively restore them. The Woodland Trust has funded this work and we are immensely grateful to them.

The Obvious Solution

It is easy to think that wholesale clearance of the conifers is the best thing to do but this will result in massive, sudden changes to woodland habitats and conditions. The dramatic rise in light levels and exposure and decrease in humidity can severely damage the remaining ancient woodland features that need protection.

The Right Approach

A much better way of managing these sites is to identify the ancient woodland hotspots, hence the assessments. We can then gently open these up to allow plants to flower, set seed and become more robust prior to any more major management. This approach also includes halo thinning veteran trees that were present prior to planting with conifers, as they also constitute ancient woodland remnants. Halo thinning helps them expand their canopy and set more seed.

PAWS Management Approach

Cumbria Woodlands offers a structured approach to PAWS and ASNW (ancient, semi-native woodland) management.

Cumbria Woodland's Webinar

Edward Mills, forestry advisor and previous director of Cumbria Woodlands talks through Woodland Restoration and the challenges of Rhododendron

Want to learn more about ancient woodland restoration?

Our online ancient woodland restoration CPD course and higher education resources are available for free, teaching the basics of ancient woodland features through to complex management needs and actions.

Useful links

Get email updates

Your details

Sign up if you'd like to receive email updates from Cumbria Woodlands. You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect and process it in accordance with our privacy policy. We use Campaign Monitor as our marketing platform. By signing up, you consent to your information being transferred to Campaign Monitor for processing

© Cumbria Woodlands 2021