Looking after woods and trees on your land can boost their benefits for wildlife, the environment and your business. By growing your woodland effectively, you can harvest a sustainable source of firewood, timber and coppice products, enhance the wood’s value for wildlife and increase the resilience of the landscape in the face of threats like pests, diseases and climate change.

Before you start

  • Define your objectives clearly before you start any woodland operations.
  • Develop a long term management plan for your wood, including objectives and timescales.
  • Check with your local authority if your land is in a Local Conservation Area or subject to any Tree Preservation Orders.
Do you need a felling licence?

In most cases a licence from the Forestry Commission is required to perform felling operations. However, you don't need a licence to:

  • to fell less than five cubic metres in a calendar quarter
  • for small trees with a diameter of less than 8cm when measured 1.3 metres from the ground, or less than 10cm for thinning or 15cm for coppicing.

Creating a basic work programme

Here are the main tasks and considerations for each stage of your wood's lifetime. 

When working in the woods, always be mindful of wildlife like nesting birds, bats, dormice and other animals and take care not to damage other woodland plants. Beware of soil erosion and run-off if the work causes any ground disturbance.

1-3 years

Tell people where they are

Make sure everyone involved in maintaining the space knows where trees are planted to avoid mowing or accidental damage.

Replace failed trees

Some loss should be expected on most sites, especially if you’ve chosen not to use tree protection or fencing. Base decisions to replace lost trees (usually within the first 2-3 years) on observation of the site, and take care not to use unnecessary resources replanting areas which seem unsuitable. Accepting some loss will contribute to a structurally diverse and interesting woodland.

Check tree guards

If you’ve chosen to use individual tree guards, check them regularly in the first few years. Strong winds can blow trees over so make sure guards, canes or stakes are upright and pushed firmly into the soil. Pull up any grass growing inside the guard and carefully replace the guard. Check tree stems and guards for damage too. Keeping tree guards firmly pressed into the soil and a weed-free area around your trees will help. 

Weed regularly 

Weeding is the most important step in giving your trees the right start. Keep a 1 metre diameter around the tree clear of weeds and grass for the first 2-3 years to reduce competition for moisture and nutrients. You can suppress weeds with mulch, such as bark chips or straw bales. Apply to a depth of around 10cm to prevent it being blown away or dispersed and top it up annually. You can also buy mulch mats and peg them into the ground to keep them in place.

Avoid mowing

Regular mowing is not advised as it invigorates grass growth and increases competition for moisture. If you do want to mow, take care to avoid damaging the trees and guards.

3-10 years

Remove tree protection

If you’ve used it, remove individual tree protection as soon as trees are well established and beyond the reach of most herbivores. Protection can start to split and disintegrate after 5-10 years and may hamper growth beyond this point if not removed. A Stanley knife with a hooked carpet fitter’s blade is the best tool for opening tubes without damaging trees. Remove the tubes in the summer to allow the bark to toughen while animals like rabbits have plenty of grass to eat.

Plastic tubes are made from polypropylene (PP) and spirals are PVC. Both can be recycled, so please check with your local authority or find a specialist company.

Establish richer communities

Woodlands are much more than groups of trees. Think about the wider communities of flora, fungi and fauna which may make a home in your developing woodland ecosystem. Many will arrive naturally, but some can need a bit of help. Consider adding nest boxes for birds, bats, and small mammals.

Promote diverse structure

Small-scale re-spacing interventions may be appropriate early in the establishment phase. For example, consider cutting to give space for selected trees such as oak or rowan among a thicket of birch (which tends to grow faster). This intervention can help promote tree species diversity.

Begin cutting programmes

Begin your coppice rotation. You won’t be able to harvest useable material in the early years but the first cut will result in multi-stemmed coppice stools forming which will become hugely productive. The cut branches will grow quickly as roots will now be well-established. Watch out for deer and rabbit damage on regrowth in spring.

For smaller projects, consider pruning. This is not essential but will encourage trees to grow upwards rather than outwards and help create a diverse canopy structure. Invest in a good pruning saw and make a clean cut close to the tree trunk. The cut should be square to the branch and preserve the bulge at its base, known as the branch collar. To prevent disease and decay, be sure not to damage the tree’s bark and never cut the branch flush with the main stem as this creates a larger wound.

Tree safety

General tree safety guidance is available from the National Tree Safety Group. If you have specific concerns, consult a professional arboriculturist in the first instance. Find qualified consultants and tree surgeons at the Arboricultural Association.

10-15 years

Promote diverse structure

Most thinning and coppicing should be considered around years 10–15. These interventions should aim to promote diversity in stem density, stem diameter, tree form and growth rate. This will set the site on a trajectory towards the structural complexity characteristic of old-growth woodland. You can also start formative pruning and trees will be tall enough to consider pollarding.

Create decaying wood

Decaying wood contributes considerably to the richness of wooded habitats. Always take opportunities to retain cut woody material. Log piles provide habitat for species such as voles, mice, hedgehogs, newts, frogs and molluscs. Leave stacks or piles directly on the ground, in dappled shade and compacted to maintain humidity.

Consider future veteran trees

Large old trees are the keystone ‘megaflora’ of wooded ecosystems, providing unique structures and microhabitats not offered by younger, smaller trees. We shouldn’t rush to create features of older wooded habitats in young developing woodland, but supporting the development of future veteran trees and associated microhabitats is important for nature recovery. Ensuring crown space around a several individual trees can help larger elite trees  to develop and contribute to structural complexity.

Manage open habitats and glades

Open wooded habitats, glade components and transitional zones are dynamic systems which can incorporate elements of scrub, more open grassland, heathland or wetland vegetation. Maintain them through prescribed and planned mechanical cutting or animal grazing.

15-20 years

If you are managing the wood for good quality timber, start a programme of thinning and formative pruning once the canopy has closed and trees start competing for space. This will give the stronger trees chance to thrive. Watch out for squirrel damage – bark stripping can seriously damage young trees and impact timber quality. Thin-barked species are most susceptible, including beech, oak, hornbeam, sycamore and sweet chestnut.

50 years+

A woodland made up of trees of various ages and sizes with a good shrub layer and rich ground flora will now be providing perfect habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and a sustainable source of income. Selected quality timber trees can be removed every few years, making space for natural regeneration that will help secure your beautiful, wooded landscape for generations to come.

Further advice and funding

For long term woodland management, visit:

Please note some information may be outdated.

For funding for woodland management, visit:

Learn more about managing woods and trees