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Our approach to restoration

Restoration is a long-term process – it can takes decades to achieve. Our approach to the restoration involves the gradual and selective thinning of the existing canopy over several years.

Our approach to restoration

To grow and thrive many of our native woodland species need a certain level of light, the dappled sunlight that filters through a full canopy of broadleaved trees is ideal. Too little light, like that found under the canopy of conifer trees with their tightly packed needles, and native species can’t grow. Too much light shocks native species and creates conditions that are ideal for coarse vegetation such as brambles and nettles to dominate an area, suppressing the regeneration of other plants.

A process of gradual change

Our approach to the restoration of ancient woodland involves the gradual and selective thinning of the existing canopy over several years, to slowly allow light levels to increase without shocking the existing remnant features, or providing enough light for brambles to get a foothold.

As light levels increase, broadleaved trees begin to germinate from the existing seed bank, grow new leaves and branches and gradually fill in the gaps left by the removal of the conifers, providing a continuous filter for the light that reaches the forest floor, while the canopy very slowly changes from being dominated by confers to being dominated by native broadleaved trees.

The development of this approach took years of trial and error on our own estate, and we still have long-term monitoring programs on several of our oldest restoration sites to look at how these change and develop over time. This gradual approach to restoration gained independent support in a study from the Oxford Forestry institute, which carried out both field trials on our estate and a review of any other existing research on the restoration process.

Accepted Industry Standards

Following this study the gradual approach was accepted as best practice in both the UK forest Standard (UKFS) produced by the Forestry Commission and the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) produced by the Forestry Stewardship Council® an independent auditing and certification body.

UKWAS states ‘A gradual process of change is often favoured but clear-felling may be an acceptable option where it can be demonstrated that this system will not adversely impact on remnant features of ancient woodland or cultural heritage interests.' Exploratory silvicultural interventions may help inform the choice of management prescription. Restocking should be carried out in such a way that remnant features are enhanced and buffered.

Above all as UKWAS highlights, the restoration process has to be flexible and there is no one size fits all approach. Each individual woodland is unique, and therefore each restoration plan has to be tailored specifically for that woodland. This is where we can help. Our project officers provide owners and managers with free advice and support on how the restoration process can work on their woodland and integrate into their existing management.

Learn more about our work