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How to manage a woodland for wildlife

By Charles Forbes Adam  //  Fri 15th June 2018
Ancient woodland

Managing a woodland isn’t difficult. Vast swathes of woodland are managed to maximise profits, with timber being the end product. Economists will throw around terms such as net present value, discount rate and resource rent, with the sole goal of placing a monetary value on their plantations. Rarely do these woodland managers take into account the value of wildlife and other plants in the woodland. In fact, they’re often seen as a cost as they may interfere in the management of the woodland itself. Here at Escrick Park, we’re more interested in the sustainable management of woodland for wildlife. We’re creating an entire new woodland that we want to be as friendly to wildlife as possible, while also being open to the public. What elements need to be in place to create such a woodland?

Mimicking an ancient woodland

In most cases, it’s the ultimate goal of a woodland manager to try and recreate the unique environment of an ancient woodland. These woodlands are extremely biodiverse, with a wide variety of both flora and fauna. These environments are delicately balanced, and a single felled tree can have a knock-on effect on the entire ecosystem. Ancient woodlands take hundreds of years to form, but it’s the role of woodland managers to try and recreate this long process of succession in ten years or less. How do we go about doing so?

Planting a variety of flora

In an ancient woodland, flora is much less uniform than we’re used to seeing in plantations, or even many wooded areas that are supposedly managed with sustainability in mind. Instead of seeing walls of brambles covering the forest floor, there will be a variety of wild flowers, shrubs and saplings. Forest managers can plant mature trees, wildflowers and shrubs to attempt to mimic the unique structure of an ancient woodland. However, this approach requires the soil to be deep and nutrient rich, to ensure that the larger trees are able to properly establish themselves. This is particularly difficult if the woodland is being created from scratch, perhaps from old agricultural land.


Coppicing involves cutting back trees to near the stump to encourage the growth of fresh shoots and foliage. It’s a traditional woodland management practice that is beginning to be used across the UK once more. Areas of the woodland are cut back in different years, creating a wide range of habitats for wildlife. Oak, hazel, ash and willow are particularly suited to coppicing.

Leaving dead trees

Fallen trees are removed in managed plantations, but if your aim is to foster wildlife, it’s best to leave these dead trees right where they are. As the wood decomposes, insects and fungi will thrive. In turn, woodland birds and mammals benefit from the additional food source. Clearly if the aim is to keep the woodland open to the public then dead trees will have to be removed from footpaths, but elsewhere, it’s best to leave them exactly as they fall. The space in the canopy freed up by the dead tree will also encourage regrowth on the forest floor, providing additional food and shelter for small mammals and insects alike.

We’re in the process of creating an entire new woodland from scratch: Three Hagges Wood. Contact us to learn more about our vision for the woodland.

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