We are at the forefront of championing restoration throughout the UK. As well as restoring our own sites, we are working with landowners and managers to restore privately-owned ancient woodland. Together, we’ve committed more than 34,000 hectares of damaged woodlands back into a process of recovery.

Almost 40% of the UK’s ancient woodland has been replanted with dense non-native trees, causing deep shade across the woodland floor. Non-native plants like rhododendron, Himalayan balsam and snowberry are also encroaching into our woodlands competing with native plants.

What is ancient woodland restoration?

Restoration is the careful process of removing these threats. This enables natural regeneration of native trees and plants, and helps wildlife to thrive. Managed well, restoration can bring ancient woodland back from the brink and provide other benefits, such as income from timber.

How we restore ancient woodland

Once sprawling wild woods full of wildlife and history, today our ancient woodland covers just 2% of the UK's land surface and half of this is damaged and in need of restoration. It's vital that we protect and restore any ancient woodland we have left to create rich, resilient and well-connected landscapes. 

Timber shortages in the 20th century led to the replanting of at least 44% of ancient woodland sites with non-native conifers. Regular felling and restocking on these plantations has seriously damaged the last remaining ancient woodland features. Restoration will allow us to enhance these important surviving features, including veteran trees or deadwood and certain unusual wild flowers, native invertebrates and fungi.  

The most important part of restoring ancient woodland is the slow correction of light levels by gradually thinning the canopy and allowing more light to reach the woodland floor. Rapid increases in light could shock any remaining woodland plants and encourage growth of brambles and bracken which can slow down the process. Carefully increasing the light levels allows surviving plants, trees and fungi to adapt slowly, meaning restoration is much more likely to be successful. 

Our advice and support is based on evidence, research and years of experience working to restore ancient woodland on our own estate. It is accepted as best practice in the UK Forestry Standard produced by the Forestry Commission, and the UK Woodland Assurance Standard. Many conifer plantations which have been planted since the Second World War are reaching maturity and are due to be felled. If you own a plantation that you think might be on an ancient woodland site, get in touch for help and support to identify ancient woodland features and begin restoration. 

Why restore ancient woodland?

Ancient woods have been around for centuries – long enough to develop into complex ecosystems. They are some of our most precious habitats, with incredible communities of plants, fungi, insects and other fauna.

They are home to lots of scarce species, including:

  • the striking purple emperor butterfly which lives in the canopy
  • lungwort lichens that grow on tree trunks in ancient woods with low air pollution
  • scarce and elusive woodland molluscs like the lemon slug which spend most of their lifecycle in ancient woodland soils
  • many plant species largely restricted to ancient woodland habitats, such as the wood anemone

These habitats are also historical treasure troves. Full of archaeological and cultural features, they give us insight into the past.

Ancient woodland is priceless. If we don’t restore and protect what we have left, we’re at risk of losing it forever.

Explore the evidence for restoring ancient woodland

Challenges for ancient woodland

Without restoration, many of these woods will degrade further or disappear altogether.

Credit: Amy Lewis / WTML

Pests and diseases

New tree diseases and insect pests are arriving in the UK each year, affecting tree health.

In many areas, high and increasing deer numbers prevent new saplings from establishing and can impact woodland ground flora. This hinders progress with restoration. Grey squirrels also have implications for restoration management.

Credit: Laura Shewring / WTML

Inappropriate management

Extensive clearfelling, drainage and soil damage can further threaten the survival of the fragile remnants of these ancient woodland ecosystems.

Discover restoration in practice

The Green Recovery Challenge Fund

Launched in 2020, the Green Recovery Challenge Fund is a short-term fund for environmental charities and their partners whose England-based projects are ready for delivery. We were fortunate to win £4.6m from the fund.

The money will help us work across our own estate, on National Trust land and with several private landowners to:

  • run a 15-month programme to improve the condition of priority natural habitats like ancient woodland
  • restore damaged ancient wooded habitats
  • survey and positively manage our most valued ancient and veteran trees
  • train workers and volunteers to manage and care for these beating hearts of our natural heritage into the future.