In March 2022, we completed a 15-month project with the National Trust to restore damaged woods and conserve neglected ancient trees thanks to funding from Defra.

The funding has helped us to improve the condition of ancient woods and veteran trees in England across our own estate, on National Trust land and with private landowners. The project was funded by a £3.86m grant from round one of Defra’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund (GRCF) and administered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This was match-funded, taking the total budget to £4.64m.

Our achievements

Over the course of the programme, we focused on three areas to protect and nurture irreplaceable habitats.

1. Restoration of damaged ancient wooded habitats

Most of England’s ancient woodland has been lost – it now covers just 2.8% of the country. Around half of what remains needs urgent management to remove non-native trees and plants that prevent native wildlife from thriving. Through this project we:

  • restored 1,100 hectares of ancient woodland
  • controlled invasive species at 23 sites
  • installed or upgraded over 15km of footpaths or tracks
  • restored ancient woodland on 24 privately owned sites
  • surveyed nine National Trust plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS) in Devon.

2. Survey and positively manage our most valued ancient and veteran trees

Ancient and veteran trees are often the last refuges for our hard-pressed wildlife. We have Europe’s best array of these valuable old trees, with more than 180,000 already recorded on the Ancient Tree Inventory (ATI). But thousands more are out there and in grave danger of being lost. We want to find them so we can protect them and create a national blueprint for reviving them. Through this project we:

  • surveyed over 4,000 ancient and veteran trees across 14,300 hectares
  • added over 2,000 new records and updated 1,800 records for the ATI
  • carried out management works on 533 ancient and veteran trees
  • worked with 13 privately owned sites to survey and manage ancient and veteran trees.

3. Train workers and volunteers to manage and care for these irreplaceable habitats

We created a skilled cohort of workers and volunteers to look after these beating hearts of our natural heritage by:

  • creating and delivering a programme of training courses on caring for and managing ancient and veteran trees
  • publishing five new training videos to help citizen scientists record for the ATI
  • training volunteer verifiers for the ATI
  • creating guidance on ‘Our approach to securing ancient and veteran trees’, with accompanying training to share best practice
  • engaging higher education institutes and providing ancient woodland restoration training resources for the ‘foresters of the future’; identifying study sites and providing case studies
  • delivering online continuing professional development training for ancient woodland restoration
  • running in-person demonstration events on ancient woodland restoration for landowners, land managers and professionals.

Learn more about ancient woodland and restoration

We are enormously thankful to Defra for the Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant to make this happen and for the strong relationships forged with project partners.