Woodlands past and present

Lady's Wood was acquired by Devon Wildlife Trust in 1964Lady's Wood was acquired by Devon Wildlife Trust in 1964

Our vision

Hayley Wood, Cambridgeshire in 1966

We have a vision of A Living Landscape, a recovery plan for nature which involves enlarging, improving, creating and joining up wildlife-rich areas of land to create a connected ecological network across the UK.  Woodlands are a key part of that ecological network. 

The Wildlife Trusts want to see all of the existing native woodlands safeguarded.  In some areas conifer plantations should be restored to their former glory as heath, bog or broadleaved woodland habitats.

To fulfil our vision we are committed to securing the best use and management of all land, including forests and woods, for the benefit of people and wildlife.


Friskney Decoy Wood, Lincolnshire - by the 1960s many ancient woodlands were fragmented and isolatedWorld War II saw large-scale felling of ancient broadleaved woods and their conversion to conifers to grow and supply timber for the war effort, as we were no longer able to rely on timber imports.

In the 1950s and 60s, to secure long-term supplies of timber, there was extensive planting of conifers on semi-natural habitats such as heathland, grassland, bog and wetland. As a result, during the 20th Century, 40% of England’s ancient woodland was converted to plantations.

Woodlands have also been lost or damaged through urban and agricultural development and now, ancient woodlands cover just three per cent of England’s land area. Of the remaining ancient woodlands, 80% are less than 20 hectares in size and half of these are even smaller - less than five hectares.                                          (Above: Friskney Decoy Wood, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve,1960s)

The Wildlife Trusts 

Throughout this period, The Wildlife Trusts have been working to protect, save and restore our native woodlands. In fact the widespread devastation of many habitats, including woodlands, was one of the reasons why many Wildlife Trusts were formed across the length and breadth of the UK. We have a long history of engaging with communities to respond to these threats and secure the future of woodlands. 

  • Treswell Wood in Nottinghamshire was almost clear felled with government grants in the 1970s when the local Wildlife Trust stepped in. It is now one of the finest ancient woods in the area. The Trust also bought nearby Eaton and Gamston Woods from the Forestry Commission, as ancient woods already damaged by clear felling and conifer planting. They are now well on the way to being restored to their former glory.
  • In 1970 the Bedfordshire Naturalists’ Trust ran a campaign to raise £10,000 to secure the future of three stunning ancient woods. Gamsey, Raveley and Lady Woods are enjoyed by the local community and support a huge diversity of wildlife.
  • In the 1990s Oxleas Wood in South London was the focus of a campaign involving local residents, London Wildlife Trust and other organisations, against plans to build a road through the site. After a long battle the plans were overturned.

A new era of restoration

There are still many thousands of hectares of conifer plantations on former ancient woodland sites and internationally important open habitats such as peatland. There are 50-60,000ha of plantations on high value wildlife sites within England’s Public Forest Estate, representing huge potential for large-scale habitat restoration. The work that we and others have already carried out has demonstrates that it can be done.

  • Greno Woods, a large ancient woodland on the edge of Sheffield, is well used by the local community for walking, horse riding and mountain biking.
    The wood is already rich in wildlife but has much more potential for wildlife too. To improve the woods as a habitat, Sheffield Wildlife Trust is carefully removing the plantation timber, which is being used as biofuel for local buildings such as schools. Gradually the wood is being restored to its former glory.


We now need to do more, and faster, in order to rescue our fragmented habitats and ensure they can support viable populations of species such as dormice, woodland birds and butterflies.

The Wildlife Trusts want to see all UK native woodlands well managed, restored to their full potential, bursting with wildlife and enjoyed by everyone - and all part of a well connected network of habitats at a landscape-scale.