We fund research into practical conservation tools, policy effectiveness and the exploration of economic and social values in relation to the conservation of trees and woods.

We welcome research proposals that address our priority research themes, identified by the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report (2021). We encourage applicants to use innovative methodologies, technologies and interdisciplinary approaches to ensure the expected outcomes will directly help us to achieve our strategic goals: to protect, create and restore native woods and trees, for wildlife and for people.

2021 Spring Research Grant Call

The 2021 Spring Research Grant Call awarded Small Research Grant funding of between £5,000 – £20,000 for research projects that aimed to address one or more of our priority research themes within 24 months.

Small Research Grants are to award funding:

  • For novel applied research relevant to the conservation of UK woods and trees
  • For short-term, pilot or proof-of-concept research
  • To help under-represented and early-career woodland conservation researchers gain experience in leading applied research projects with a practitioner non-government organisation.

How to apply

Applications for 2021 Research Grant Call funding have now closed and are no longer being accepted. Please contact us at research@woodlandtrust.org.uk if you would like to be notified when our next research grant call is open.

Eligibility and evaluation criteria

Research themes

The State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report (2021) provides clear evidence that we must act now to protect, create and restore UK woods and trees.

Research projects must demonstrate how they will address one or more of the following four priority research themes, identified by these findings. Grant applicants are encouraged to explore any applied research that align with one or more of these themes. A selection of topics and issues of interest are included under each theme description, however this is not an exhaustive list.

Theme 1: Woodland extent, condition and wildlife value

This theme aims to address and further our knowledge regarding the extent, condition and wildlife value of UK woods and trees. This is crucial to enable us to protect and restore existing native trees and woods, and target woodland creation and expansion.

Proposals addressing this research theme will help our conservation activities align with the Lawton principles: ‘Bigger, better, more and more joined up.’ What are the factors limiting expansion at the site and landscape scale?

Projects are expected to illustrate how new and existing methodologies can be used to monitor the wildlife value of UK trees and woods and assess ecological condition. We are particularly interested in gaining new insights into the extent, condition and wildlife value of ancient woodland, trees outside of woods, wood pasture and parkland, ancient and veteran trees, urban trees and community woodlands. Research that improves the ability of conservation practitioners to enhance the development of these woodland types for biodiversity and other ecosystem services will be favoured.

Topics and issues of interest under this theme include (but are not limited to):

  • How have historical losses and degradation of trees and woods impacted biodiversity and connectivity at the landscape scale? What role do non-traditional woodland types such as agroforestry and urban trees have in reversing biodiversity declines? How do we reverse the decline of trees outside woods, wood pasture and hedgerows at the landscape scale?
  • How connected are our landscapes for biodiversity and how can this evidence be used to improve ecological integrity? How can indicator species movements be used for monitoring ecological permeability across landscapes and adaptive management at a range of scales?
  • The current condition of some of the UK’s treed habitats is poorly understood, such as hedgerows, wood pasture and parkland, and ancient woods and trees. What is the total extent, location and condition of wood pasture and parkland in the UK? What is the condition of urban trees and woods?
  • What are the wider ecological impacts of trees of a non-local provenance on biodiversity and ecosystem function?

Theme 2: Benefits for people (ecosystem services)

This theme seeks to better understand the benefits of woods and trees for people, including flood risk management, pollination, carbon sequestration and storage, recreation, public health and their cultural, spiritual and intrinsic value.

Proposals examining how these benefits can be promoted at the site and landscape scale, and the relative trade-offs when different objectives are prioritised, are encouraged under this theme.

We are particularly interested in the extent to which the ecological condition of trees and woods across landscapes affects the relative benefits provided to people. This includes people from all walks of life, including those who have historically experienced unequal access to ecosystem services. How can these ecosystem services be measured and enhanced equitably for communities now and in the future? How have past land use policies affected the ability of trees and woods to deliver ecosystem services?

Topics and issues of interest under this theme include (but are not limited to):

  • How can we enhance our understanding of the cultural importance of trees in different places and contexts, particularly to under-represented, minority and ethnic groups? What practical methods can be employed to connect people of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds with wooded landscapes? How do we enact societal change to overcome barriers to woodland access?
  • Which tree species, forms and locations most effectively tackle the impacts of air quality and pollution in urban and rural environments? Are there any trade-offs for biodiversity and tree health?
  • How do urban trees mitigate the impacts of climate change and benefit human health and wellbeing?
  • What is the carbon sequestration value of different tree species (particularly native species that are under-represented in historic yield-class models) and different woodland types e.g. ancient and old-growth trees and woods, created by different methods, restored by different approaches and with differing soil types? What role can natural regeneration play in achieving net zero carbon targets?
  • How can the principles of natural capital be more effectively applied in real-world scenarios and improve quantification of ecosystem services that are too frequently omitted from calculations such as biodiversity? How can we quantify the contribution of trees and woods to natural flood risk management at the catchment level?
  • What are the economic implications (costs/benefits) of planting trees on farms under different applied scenarios and what ecosystem services do different agroforestry approaches provide? These could include the impact of trees on biodiversity, carbon sequestration and ammonia-pollution mitigation.

Theme 3: Threats and drivers of change

This theme seeks to better understand the threats and drivers of change affecting UK native woods and trees.

Proposals under this theme should aim to inform protection of new and existing woods and trees from the huge array of threats, enhancing resilience and ecological integrity at site and landscape scale.

The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services identified the five key drivers of harmful change in ecosystems as: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. We encourage proposals that address barriers to monitoring, mitigating and protecting woods and trees from threats and drivers of change.

Topics and issues of interest under this theme include (but are not limited to):

  • What role does genetic diversity at the landscape scale play for the conservation of woodland into the future? How does local adaptation impact resilience to future climates and what are the future prospects of our native trees in terms of their function for conservation and biodiversity?
  • How can we improve mapping and data collection on the susceptibility, tolerance and threat of pests, diseases and invasive non-native species to UK woodland with a view to informing enhanced landscape-scale management?
  • To what extent does tree provenance affect the associated phenology, interactions with woodland wildlife and adaptation to local non-climatic factors such as geology, soils, soil microbes and mycorrhizal associations?
  • How can the impacts of development on veteran and ancient trees and woods best be mitigated? Compensation approaches are often applied to justify destruction of ancient woodland. To what extent have these been successful?
  • How do different vertebrate herbivores, such as deer, impact trees and woods at the landscape scale, including woodland ecological condition? How are key vertebrate herbivore populations distributed, and what are their associated impacts?
  • How does grey squirrel damage and control in broadleaf woodlands impact on value for biodiversity, recreation and other ecosystem services, as well as landowner motivations and public perceptions? How can increased knowledge of bark-stripping damage inform novel and acceptable control approaches?
  • What impact have past land use policies had on woods and trees in terms of their resilience and ecological integrity as context for the potential impact of proposed or alternative approaches?

Theme 4: Restoration, creation and management

This theme aims to improve and refine practical conservation delivery by focusing on the development of novel, efficient and cost-effective approaches.

Research topics in this theme may include intervention trials to provide evidence for the effectiveness of management or restoration.

It may include research into innovative techniques and methods for creating new native woodland for different objectives. This includes effectiveness for biodiversity and people but also the economics and cost-effectiveness of different approaches. How can we ensure that the creation, restoration, and management of woodland and wooded landscapes is improving ecological integrity and resilience, as well as other important ecosystem services, and how do we most effectively measure policy effectiveness and progress towards these goals?

Topics and issues of interest under this theme include (but are not limited to):

Woodland creation, tree establishment and management

  • What is the relative biodiversity value of native and non-native woodland created and managed using traditional and novel approaches? Can novel combinations of approaches and techniques to creation and management enhance or expedite their value for biodiversity, taking into account variation at the site and landscape scale?
  • How can wood pasture, parkland and other trees outside woods be created, established or restored? What is the most appropriate soil and root management for these trees and habitats? How can we encourage future generations of veteran and ancient trees to persist and thrive?
  • How effective is the assisted colonisation of flora, fungi and lichens as a management intervention, particularly for enhancing the value of young woodland for biodiversity?
  • What are the most effective establishment methods for trees in the presence of livestock? What management techniques should be used for trees under different agroforestry approaches?

Tree and woodland restoration and management

  • How do ‘old growth’ characteristics, such as remnant old trees and deadwood, respond to restoration operations? How can future ‘old growth’ characteristics be promoted and developed during restoration?
  • Evidence for the effects of coppicing and pollarding on biodiversity comes from mature woodlands, wood pastures and wooded landscapes that have a long history of coppicing. Do the same species and communities establish and thrive in new woodland where coppicing or pollarding is used?
  • How effective are current and novel woodland management approaches, interventions and techniques for enhancing the value of trees and woods (of all ages) for biodiversity, including functional diversity?
  • What is the effect on biodiversity, natural processes and people of reintroducing diminished or locally extinct (keystone) species to wooded ecosystems and landscapes?
  • To what extent do past, current and future legislation, policy approaches and conservation designations (such as SSSI and other protected landscapes) enhance the value of woods and trees for wildlife and for people?

Landscape-scale research

We are particularly interested in applied, interdisciplinary research projects addressing issues with landscape-scale significance. This means we encourage research which integrates woods and trees across other aspects of conservation where appropriate, across other land-uses that traditionally do not feature trees, and into society more widely. However, it is acceptable for projects to be focused on individual sites or trees if this is instrumental to addressing the research question. If this is the case, scaling up outputs to have the broadest applicability will be encouraged.

Need more information?

Contact our team for more information about our conservation research programme and grant funding.

Email: research@woodlandtrust.org.uk
Phone: 0330 333 3300 

Further reading