Lowland wood-pasture is a woodland type that has developed through past management, rather than being a particular vegetation community. Where woodland has been grazed at moderate stocking levels for many years, it will develop an open park-like character. The most valuable features are old trees, dead and dying wood, pockets of scrub and the ground flora that develops from being shaded and grazed.

Parkland is usually a man made landscape that now features old trees and deadwood, replicating the more natural wood-pasture.

It is possible to create a wooded community that mimics wood-pasture and old parkland, however it will take hundreds of years to develop the full characteristics. Note that in the meantime it will provide considerable benefit to wildlife.

Choose which trees to plant and in what relative proportions based on the woodland types that would regenerate naturally on a site, using e.g. soil pH, nutrient levels, hydrology, and climate. The Forestry Commission can give specific advice locally.

Size and proximity to other woodlands are important. Larger areas (ideally > 5 ha) support and retain more woodland wildlife. Adding to existing woods or creating new blocks close by increases the potential for species colonisation.

Woodland creation is not appropriate where existing habitats of value occur, or that have the potential to be restored to higher priority habitats – eg rarer or more threatened habitats, or where it will create barriers for wildlife movement between existing habitats.

Establishment techniques

Several methods can be used, although planting to a specific design will offer most control. When deciding on which to use, assess available resources, the local landscape and the site objectives.


Natural colonisation

Natural colonisation will suit sites adjacent to existing semi-natural woodland and where grazing and other seedling predation is low.

Preparation of a rough seedbed will often enhance germination and take of new trees. Only use a (low fertility) thin topsoil where exposed substrates are excessively impoverished or do not offer rooting opportunities. Compaction and waterlogging can severely affect tree growth. These factors can be improved, for example by subsoiling.

Pioneer species, such as birch can develop a dense scrub cover relatively quickly (over 10 years). Thereafter natural succession will see the balance gradually change as new species colonise. This can take a very long time, but as this is a natural process, the value for wildlife will remain.

New saplings of desired species should be found and protected from deer or rabbit browsing with tubes to aid colonisation and to manage the distribution of trees of various species. When sufficient are protected others can be left to their own devices.

Tree and shrub planting

Whatever the planting method used it is important to ensure that:

  • Trees and shrubs are planted in loose friable soil to ensure adequate water storage.
  • Rootstock is always protected from desiccation.
  • Competing rank grass and other plants are managed for 4-5 years (see below).

When preparing the soils, redress any compaction where necessary by ripping.

Do not deliberately improve soil fertility - tree establishment depends on root penetration and low competition. Poorer soils help to reduce competition from grasses and herbaceous vegetation, and develop a diverse ground flora.

Planting patterns and spacing

The planting scheme used at the outset will be a major influence on resulting woodland structure.

  • Plant naturalistically, not in straight lines - this leads to wind tunnelling and a simplified structure of limited value for wildlife.
  • Sparse planting leads to the development of more natural woodlands than the dense planting traditional in commercial silviculture.Wider spacing involves fewer trees, lower planting and lower maintenance costs. It produces bushy trees and a slower closing canopy, as well as reducing weeding during establishment, and delaying thinning for several decades.

Ø      at an average spacing of 3.6 m, 722 trees are required per ha.

  • Closer spacing, results in taller trees, earlier canopy closure and requires earlier thinning, otherwise a simple structure develops lacking many of the features needed by birds and other wildlife. Closer spacing than 2m should not be considered.

Ø      at an average spacing of 2 m, 2,500 trees are required per ha.

  • Randomised spacings, where some areas are denser and some sparser, reflecting species and topography, creates woodland that is more naturalistic.
  • Plant slower-growing canopy trees, either singly or in small clusters, at varying spacing of 2 – 10 metres. Enhance structural diversity by planting in between with shrubs and rapid-growing, short-lived trees, or by allowing natural regeneration.
  • Around 40% trees to 60% shrubs throughout the planting scheme will create structural diversity.
  • Plant shrubs randomly, some in tight clusters forming thickets, others more widely spaced; some clusters of mixed species, others of single species, depending on soils and topography. Slow-growing species should not be planted in association with faster-growing, competitive species.
  • Bramble frequently appears naturally; it is valuable nesting and foraging cover for birds and nectar source. It can help to protect saplings from browsing by herbivores like deer.

Where nursery-grown trees are used, whips (small, bare-rooted stock) generally out-perform standards. They are usually more cost effective as prices range from £0.50 to £1.00 per unit, depending on species.

Planting should be undertaken during the dormancy period – November to February – avoiding frosty weather. Roots must not dry out. Heel unplanted stock in until it can be planted out. One person can plant 800-1,500 whips a day by hand.

Where they occur, protection from deer and rabbits is essential. Tree shelters are costly but increase survival rates, aid early growth and reduce the need for weed control. Fencing costs are high: ca £5 m-1 for rabbit fencing, ca £10 m-1 for deer fencing, but reusable types are available. Remove tree guards and fencing once the crop is well established (5+ years).

New plantings will need weed control for the first 4-5 years to limit competition. This need not be rigorous, as occasional losses will create useful gaps. Options include: biodegradable mats fitted around base of tree; wood chip or bark mulch application; glyphosate application once or twice a year; mowing or tillage. Mulching is effective but large supplies would be needed for large schemes. This and matting help to retain soil moisture.

Ground flora establishment

A ground flora of ruderal plants will colonise naturally, which when lightly grazed will develop a valuable, varied structure mosaic of tussocks and short turf. This will continue to develop. Introduction is only required where colonising is unlikely.

Woodland topsoil will include seeds and root material as well as fungal spores and mycelia, and can therefore be an effective means of introducing ground flora. Where available, this can be applied in clumps from which vegetation will spread over time. Permission will be required from Natural England where the donor site is an SSSI.


Scrub is an important component of wildlife rich landscapes in its own right, and adds to the structure of wood pasture.

Natural colonisation of scrub will develop a balanced age structure and allow spatial distribution and species diversity to develop. Several species, such as blackthorn are ready colonists of suitable ground. Where time is not a constraint, natural colonisation should be the favoured option.

Once established, the structure may need to be maintained by rotational cutting, and thinning.

Planting will be required where natural colonisation is not an option. Use only local native species appropriate to the local conditions. Use similar techniques as for trees (see above), designed to give a varied and complex structure, with glades for a high edge to area ratio.

Long-term management

Management will primarily be by grazing, or cutting in the absence of grazing, though this is a poor substitute. Grazing pressure needs to such that most tree and scrub seedlings are suppressed but occasional pockets can develop, and such that the ground flora is open but not limited to low growing vegetation.

With wide spacing and appropriate protection, trees once established will need little management.

Further reading

Buckley, G P and Knight, D J (1989) The feasibility of woodland reconstruction. In G P Buckley (ed) Biological Habitat Reconstruction, pp 171-88. Bellhaven Press.

Francis, J L, Morton, A J and Boorman, L A (1992) The establishment of ground flora species in recently planted woodland. Aspects of Applied Biology 29: 171-78.

Hodge, S J (1995) Creating and managing woodlands around towns. Forestry Commission Handbook 11. HMSO, London.

Hopkins, J J (1996) Scrub ecology and conservation. British Wildlife 8(1): 28-36.

Moffat, A and McNeill, J (1994) Reclaiming disturbed land for forestry. Forestry Commission Bulletin 110. HMSO, London.

Peterken, G F (1993)  Woodland conservation and management. Second Edition. Chapman and Hall, London.

Rodwell, J S and Patterson, G S (1994) Creating new native woodland. Forestry Commission Bulletin 112. HMSO, London.

Relevant case study

We currently have no case studies for this habitat type. If you know of one and would like it to feature on the site contact us.

The information set out within this advisory sheet in no way constitutes legal or regulatory advice and is based on circumstances and facts as they existed at the time Nature After Minerals compiled this document. Should there be a change in circumstances or facts, then this may adversely affect any  recommendations, opinions or findings contained within this document