What are plantations?

A tree plantation is an area which has been intentionally planted with trees. These are more recent sites and can include commercial timber-producing plantations using non-native trees, as well as new native woods for wildlife and carbon capture.

Plantation with light shining through the trees

Credit: Edward Parker / WTML

Types of plantation

Many mature plantations were created in the last century for timber production. These plantations were planted with fast-growing non-native conifers.

Plantation of new native woodland in wales against a backdrop of rolling hills

Credit: Laurie Campbell / WTML

More recently, new areas of land have been planted with native species to create new woodland. As these woods develop, they create new habitats for wildlife, as well as connecting and buffering existing woodlands. They also provide important ecosystem services, such as locking up carbon, helping to reduce flooding, and opportunities for recreation.

Key features

As plantations can be new native woodland or non-native plantations, they can differ in features. A conifer plantation will be populated with non-native needled trees, while new native woodland will feature a mix of native broadleaves.

Wildlife

Plantations can have a positive effect on wildlife when they do not replace or damage other important habitats and are thoughtfully managed. They may not have the same special soils and continuity as ancient woods, but young plantations support breeding birds like blackcaps and chiffchaffs. In intensive agricultural areas, they often provide havens for other wildlife which are not specifically associated with woods and trees.

Conifer plantations can be a favourite of the red squirrel and the goldcrest.

Threats

New woods are particularly vulnerable to defoliation from deer grazing, and impacts from grey squirrels.

New woodland plantations are an important contribution to achieving net-zero carbon targets. Between 2018 and 2019, 13,400 hectares of new plantation woodlands were created, but annual tree planting figures will need to be higher to meet the levels required.

Approximately 40% (227,000ha) of the remaining ancient woodland in the UK has been cleared and replanted with dense non-native plantations. The Woodland Trust owns and is actively restoring over 4000ha of plantations on ancient woodland sites. Our work with other landowners has seen over 23,000ha of private woodland committed to restoration in recent years. There is still so much to do.

What we’re doing about it

Restoration and creation is key to our work. We restore ancient woodlands where non-native plantations have been established to encourage native species to re-establish. We also create new native woodlands to extend, connect and buffer existing woodlands.