Our 2022 research projects

In 2022, we funded two large research projects related to our strategic goals. These projects will help us fill key evidence gaps and help us protect, create and restore UK woods and trees.

Scanning ancient trees with LiDAR to characterise and compare tree architecture across the UK’s ancient and veteran oaks

The UK has the highest density of ancient trees in Europe and these trees are fundamental components of our landscape, providing habitat for many species and storing carbon.

This project involves scanning ancient trees with LiDAR to characterise and compare tree architecture across the UK’s ancient and veteran oaks using cutting-edge terrestrial laser scanning techniques. It will measure the structural characteristics of ancient and veteran trees to produce 3D models which will help us understand and manage these trees for the future.

Aim of this research

To characterise the shape, size and form of ancient and veteran oaks trees to understand the similarities and differences in their structure.

This research will help

  • Identify structural traits which will help us predict which trees are likely to grow into ancient and veteran trees in the future.
  • Improve the accuracy of models predicting carbon stored in mature trees.


Grant recipient: Dr. Phil Wilkes, Department of Geography, University College London (UCL)

Project Team: Dr. Cecilia Chavana-Bryant, Department of Geography, UCL

Project Partners: Laura Alcock-Ferguson, The Ancient Tree Forum (Cheif Executive Officer) and Vikki Bengtsson, Pro Natura (Senior Ecologist)

Woodland biodiversity for human health and wellbeing across Britain

Although we know that woodlands are beneficial for human health and wellbeing, these benefits are distributed unequally across society. By generating a series of maps, this project will investigate the relationship between biodiversity and human health across the UK to explore inequalities in the provision of biodiversity.

Aim of this research

This project will determine whether woodland biodiversity in Britain is equally distributed to provide health and wellbeing benefits.

This research will help

  • Explore inequalities in health and wellbeing benefits associated with biodiversity at a national scale.
  • Identify where woodland creation may bring greatest wellbeing benefits.


Grant recipient: Dr Jessica Fisher, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent

Project Team: Dr Gail Austen, DICE, University of Kent

Project Partners: Prof Zoe Davies, DICE, University of Kent and Prof Martin Dallimer, Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds

Our 2021 research projects

In 2021, we funded 11 projects across 4 priority themes.

Theme 1: Woodland extent, condition, and wildlife value

Furthering our knowledge so we can protect and restore existing native trees and woods, and target woodland creation and expansion.

Did you know?

One-third of all woodland wildlife species are in decline.

Real-time biodiversity monitoring with a bioacoustic index tool

Monitoring the impact of current and future pressures on woodlands and biodiversity, from climate change to local development, normally requires time-consuming and costly surveys that often only give a snapshot fixed point in time.

With new, cost-effective, cutting-edge technology we now may have the potential to continuously monitor biodiversity, giving us an understanding of how patterns are changing – within and between habitats – in real-time!

Aim of this research 

  • explore the potential of soundscape ecology as a tool for continuously monitoring biodiversity in woodland, assessing woodland wildlife value and detecting threats.

This research will help:

  • pilot technology for monitoring woodland and wildlife
  • potentially enable rapid detection of threats
  • provide results that guide woodland management. 

Following this pilot study, there is the potential to develop a wider biodiversity monitoring network at the Woodland Trust, enabling real-time and long-term studies of woodland wildlife value.


Grant recipient: Dr Brian John Pickles, University of Reading

Project team: Dr David Aleklett Kadish, Malmö University; Professor Tristan Quaife, University of Reading

Did you know?

There are 57 resident butterfly species in the UK.

The value of trees outside woods for promoting biodiversity

Around a quarter of butterflies in the wider countryside have declined on farmland since 1990. Trees outside woods connect our fragmented, human-dominated landscapes, and are vital to wildlife. We need to take urgent action to protect these trees in the face of numerous threats.

Aim of this research 

  • reveal how trees outside woods can help provide connected habitats for butterflies across the landscape
  • understand the challenges of managing these trees.

This research will help:

  • inform how farmers and landowners can be supported to protect habitats
  • underpin the Woodland Trust's vital work helping protect and restore trees outside woods.


Grant recipient: Dr Ruth Feber, Oxford University

Project team: Dr Paul Johnson, Oxford University

Project partners: Dr Nigel Bourn, Butterfly Conservation; Tim Field, Agricology; Caroline Drummond, Linking Environment and Farming

Theme 2: Benefits for people - ecosystem services

Understanding the benefits of woods and trees for people, in terms of pollination, flooding, carbon lock-up, health and cultural value.

Did you know?

A minimum of 30,000 hectares of new woodland is needed every year until 2050, to meet the UK's net zero target.

Trees in limestone regions: exploring carbon capture and release

Tree planting provides an essential ecosystem service and critical societal benefit in the form of carbon capture. We currently do not fully understand the impact of tree planting on the release and storage of inorganic carbon in soil and underlying bedrock (particularly in areas with limestone bedrock).

Aim of this research 

  • predict whether creating forests will enhance carbon sinking from newly forested limestone areas or if it will cause carbon emission.

This research will help:

  • provide an understanding of how tree planting affects net carbon capture and release
  • inform effective woodland creation in limestone regions like the Northern Forest.


Grant recipient: Professor Mike Rogerson, Northumbria University

Project team: Dr Miranda Prendergast-Miller, Dr Paul Mann and Dr Vasile Ersek, Northumbria University; Professor Yit Arn Teh, Newcastle University, Professor Daniella Rempe, University of Texas

Project partners: Dr Andrew Tye, British Geological Society; Professor John Gunn, British Cave Research Association (University of Birmingham)

Did you know?

Terrestrial vegetation absorbs 30% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Getting to the roots of the forest response to elevated CO2

New cutting-edge technology, called Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) – now available at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) – gives us a novel opportunity to simulate future carbon dioxide levels. We know that a large amount of carbon emission is absorbed by trees, but it is unclear how elevated carbon dioxide levels impact this and how tree roots will behave under these conditions. 

Aim of this research 

  • monitor the growth and death of roots of mature oak trees under levels of atmospheric CO2 expected for 2050 (550 ppm).

This research will help:

  • unravel the effect of carbon dioxide on root dynamics
  • improve our ability to forecast the carbon capture potential of forests
  • understand how UK forests contribute to our future climate
  • support the conservation and restoration of UK forests.


Grant recipient: Dr Marie Arnaud, University of Birmingham

Project team: Dr Adriane Esquivel Muelbert, University of Birmingham; Professor Richard Norby, University of Tennessee, Professor Sami Utah, University of Birmingham

Project partner: Professor Rob Mackenzie, BiFoR and University of Birmingham

Did you know?

Some wet woodlands form peat, adding to the carbon stored in the wood of the growing trees.

Forgotten forests: exploring wet woodlands as carbon-dense ecosystems

Policies on tree planting have so far largely ignored wet woodlands, which are found on floodplains, by lakes, and in other damp areas of the landscape. In addition, We have very little research on how the re-establishment of wet woodlands can add to national tree-planting schemes.

Aim of this research 

  • measure the amount of carbon above ground and below ground, in the Broads National Park wet woodland, in relation to woodland characteristics, such as tree age and species. 

Read more about the Wet Woodland Research.

This research will help:

  • provide a first estimate of how much carbon can be sequestered and stored in wet woodlands
  • reveal the potential contribution of wet woodlands potential to climate mitigation strategies.


Grant recipient: Dr Alice Milner, Royal Holloway University of London.

Project team: Dr Emily Lines, University of Cambridge; Professor Andy Baird, University of Leeds.

Project partners: Iain Diack, Natural England; Andrea Kelly, Broads Authority; Dan Hoare, Ted Ellis Trust Wheatfen.

Theme 3: Threats and drivers of change

Appreciating what can affect UK native woods and trees, to enhance resilience and ecological integrity at specific sites and on a landscape scale.

Did you know?

Ancient woodland makes up 2.5% of UK land area and has existed since at least 1600 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 1750 in Scotland.

The highest climate change risks for ancient woodlands

Climate change and the droughts, storms and fires that come with it pose a major threat to the future of ancient woodland which exist in small, isolated islands in a sea of human-dominated landscapes. We currently do not know which ancient woodlands are at the highest risk, and where the impact of surrounding land uses - such as agriculture or urban areas - can compound that risk.

Aim of this research

  • map ancient woodlands across Great Britain highlighting their risk of increased adverse effects from climate change in relation to surrounding land use.

This research will help:

  • inform proactive management plans
  • identify potential priority sites for protective campaigning
  • monitor climate change effects on ancient woodlands.​​​​​​​


Grant recipient: Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

Project team: Henrike Schulte to Bühne, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

Project partners: Professor Len Shaffreu and Dr Ben Harvey, University of Reading.

Did you know?

The blooming of flowering plants has advanced by almost one month over the last 30 years.

Climate-induced ecological mismatch in fauna and flora

Climate change can alter the timing of life stages in plants and animals such as flowering and nesting. With most studies focusing on a single or small set of species at a local or regional scale, we need to start looking at the bigger picture.

The Woodland Trust’s Nature's Calendar offers nearly three million phenological observations of a wide range of plants, as well as insects, birds, fungi and amphibians. This is the perfect resource for long-term, community-wide research and will be used for this study. 

Aim of this research

  • assess if global climate change is causing a mismatch in the timings of phenological stages of plant and animal species in natural and agricultural systems across the UK. 

This research will help:

  • reveal the climate sensitivity and ecological vulnerability of the UK’s flora and fauna
  • inform scientific communities, conservation initiatives, policymakers, and the wider public
  • guide improvements to the Nature’s Calendar phenology project.


Grant recipient: Prof Ulf Büntgen, University of Cambridge

Project team: Dr Alan Crivellaro, University of Cambridge

Project partner: Prof Tim Sparks, University of Cambridge and the Nature's Calendar project team. 

Did you know?

Natural regeneration can be severely affected by excessive browsing of edible vegetation by large mammals such as deer.

The impact of herbivory on the value of woodland creation sites

The creation of a woodland needs thoughtful planning to produce a woodland that has: a mixture of species; availability of food and resources;  resilience to climate change; and promotes woodland biodiversity.

We know that natural regeneration is an important part of woodland development and is key to the long-term continuity of that ecosystem. What we don't know, however, is how browsing affects woodland creation.

Aim of this research

  • identify attributes of woodland creation sites that make them resilient to herbivore pressure.

This research will help:

  • underpin woodland creation and management strategies to enhance the structural diversity of woodland creation sites
  • applications for new grant schemes for natural regeneration.


Grant recipient: Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, University of Stirling

Project team: Professor Kirsty Park, University of Stirling; Dr Kevin Watts, Forest Research

Project partner: Robin Gill, Forest Research

Did you know?

UK deer populations are growing, with numbers projected to be higher than at any time in the past 1000 years. 

Measuring deer impacts in Scottish woodlands

Imagine a future Scotland where even more woodlands are regenerating, increasing biodiversity, forest productivity, and carbon capture. This may be possible if we have a clearer understanding of deer management.

By using the 'sentinel approach' recently developed at Cornell University in the US we may be able to assess the impact of deer browsing and other factors, such as rodents or soil-dwelling species, on woodland regeneration.

Aim of this research

  • test whether a new approach to assessing deer impacts could help understand how deer impact the establishment of tree, shrub and herbaceous species.
  • deduce if impacts are similar across rural Scotland or if they vary from place to place.
  • evaluate the effectiveness of current deer management approaches in relation to woodland regeneration.

This research will help:

  • inform improvements to deer impact assessments are improved so they include the sampling of rare species and core components of woodlands, such as wildflowers
  • guide decisions made by land managers.


Grant recipient: Hannah Kirkland, Cornell University

Project team: Dr Bernd Blossey, Cornell University; Dr Darragh Hare, Oxford University

Project partners: Dr Mike Daniels, John Muir Trust; Alan McDonnell, Trees for Life; Innes MacNeill, Alladale Wilderness Reserve

Theme 4: Restoration, creation and management

Improving practical conservation delivery by focusing on novel, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to restoration, creation, and management. 

Did you know?

As trees establish, ectomycorrhizal fungi colonise their roots, providing nutrients to their hosts, and protection from tree pathogens.

Veteran oaks and their fungi: associations and interactions

To avoid tree root damage, woodland managers are currently advised to protect the rooting space of trees (up to 15m from the tree base), however, ectomycorrhizal fungi may extend further than this.

These fungi are central to the health of many important dominant trees in Britain. In order to protect trees, we need to determine if the destruction of ectomycorrhizal fungi negatively impacts root health and other species, notably waxcaps, many of which are globally threatened.

Aim of this research

  • investigate the changes in soil fungal populations in relation to distance from the bases of open-grown veteran oak trees
  • explore the relationship between ectomycorrhizal fungi and waxcaps in grassland bordering woodland.

This research will help:

  • test whether the current 15m root protection zone for veteran oak trees is sufficient to also protect their associated fungi
  • potentially inform future guidance on land management, ensuring that tree health is not indirectly impacted by ectomycorrhizal fungi damage.


Grant Recipient: Dr Gareth Wyn Griffith, Aberystwyth University

Project team: Andrew P. Detheridge, Aberystwyth University

Did you know?

Natural regeneration may be the best way of establishing new woods and trees which are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Drivers of natural regeneration in planted woodlands

Planting is a relatively quick process, whereas the establishment of some trees and the development of habitats by natural regeneration can take much longer. Despite the time involved, leaving things to nature leads to high floristic diversity and can be valuable for bird and invertebrate life.

When trees establish through natural regeneration selection pressures –environmental conditions, competition from other plants, pests and disease and browsing – lead to survival of the fittest. Any survivors are generally better adapted to local conditions due to their distinctive genetic patterns. With this in mind, we need to use natural regeneration to our advantage.

Aim of this research

  • explore how natural regeneration can be maximised within planted woodlands, considering: seed source proximity; canopy cover; plantation age; and tree species.
  • study drivers of natural regeneration in woodlands planted under English woodland creation schemes within the last 5-15 years.

This research will help:

  • provide valuable evidence on how to manage existing plantation woodlands to maximise natural regeneration
  • inform how we might encourage resilience in woodland creation, via a mixed approach of natural regeneration and tree planting.


Grant recipient: Dr Richard Davies, University of East Anglia

Project team: Feadora Morris, University of East Anglia

Project partners: Gary Battel, Suffolk County Council; Andrew Falcon, Woodland Contractor and Consultant; Frances Jannaway, Suffolk Tree Warden Network

Need further information?

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

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

Further reading