Woodland Creation

Creating a New Woodland

New woodland establishment can be complex and this guide is meant as an introduction only. Please contact us if you would like further assistance with your tree planting scheme.

In Cumbria we have nearly 10% woodland cover which is close to the English average. However, there is always potential to increase this. Woodland creation is desirable for habitats, timber production, public benefit and as a carbon sink. Though there may be debate 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’. This often involves 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 whatsoever.

Planting

Where you want a different species to those present in the natural environment, 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. This spruce represents 50% of conifers planted, 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. This does restrict 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.

Resilience

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. 

Other Considerations

Ground Preparation

For most sites, some form of ground preparation is a good idea to aid tree establishment. For small sites this is often done by hand or chemical screening. For larger sites mechanised cultivation is often recommended.

Protection

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 spiral guards can help in this situation or rabbit fencing erected if the problem is severe.

Shading

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.

Design

A well-designed new woodland planting scheme 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.

Stocking

The standard Forestry Commission grant-aided woodland, funding scheme (EWCO) has a minimum stocking density 1,100 trees per hectare for broadleaves and 2,500 trees per hectare for conifers. 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 a 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.

Environment Impact Assessments

Projects of any size within a World Heritage Site, e.g. the Lake District National Park, require an EIA screening from the Forestry Commission. Outside sensitive areas, projects under two hectares do not require this.

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