Annular Further – Britain – Country and Geography

Woodland in the South East Southdowns – Photo Oliver Lowenstein

There are four principal sections to this geographical and environmental overview of Britain’s forests, woods and trees.

Country and Geography – beginning with an overview of the Country, the Country and Geography sections is comprised of the following Geography and Trees, Forests and Woods, National and Regional Nature Parks and Forest related Nature Organisations.

The Country

Like other mainland European countries, including sparsely wooded Denmark and the Netherlands, Britain’s geography was once characterised by deep forested wood cover. Over subsequent millennia, the woods almost completely disappeared in the face of a gradual but relentless opening up of more and more land for farming, habitation, and firewood. Today the British Isles are one of the least wood-covered geographies in Europe.

As the Holocene began to come to an end, forests, or what is often called wildwood, began to seed itself as the climate warmed and the Pleistocene glaciers began to retreat. After over 2.5 million years – around 10, 000 years ago – trees started spreading where they could grow over what had been a de facto tundra landscape. Around 9,500 years ago as the glaciers melted away, the land began to be repopulated by the first Neolithic peoples, nomadic hunter-gatherers, in what was a forest and swamp covered landscape much like the rest of Europe. Arriving across the land-bridge from the continent, a small if growing population made the westerly group of Atlantic islands their permanent home. Small tracts of land were cleared of wildwood, though it was only after Doggerland, the prehistoric bridge to the European mainland, had disappeared under water around 6500 years ago, and Neolithic farming had been introduced around 6000 years ago, that sustained woodland clearances began.

The clearances continued down through the centuries, including during the Bronze Age period (1700-500 BC) in the uplands, although much of the country remained covered by forest. The replacement of wooded lands with arable farming accelerated with the arrival of Celtic peoples (400 BC), with the felling of woodlands continuing through to the medieval era. By the end of the first millennia (1000 AD) much of the remaining wildwood had been replaced, with agriculturally worked land the predominant landscape, leaving only comparably small pockets of wooded land. By this time only 20% of Scottish land was still wood covered, with a considerably lower figure in England. The Norman era saw yet more clearances in England and Wales, though Scotland remained less affected, at least until the sheep were introduced in the mid-18th century.

Despite this, the island retained its primeval forests longer than most of Europe due to a small population and later development of trade and industry. Wood shortages were not a problem until the 17th century. Through this period, foresters developed a system of coppicing with standards, while timber frame farm buildings, houses and other buildings in villages and towns were regularly rebuilt. In some places ancient forests linked to the original post glacier age wildwoods survived up until the 1600s, when the needs of ship-building and other uses increasingly began to see fellings of previously untouched woodlands. As the industrial revolution intensified, wood felling accelerated through the 18th century to such an extent that by its end, Britain was needing to import timber from Scandinavia, the Baltic Countries, and North America. New industrial era materials, metals in the latter half of the 19th century, and plastics in the early 20th century started replacing wood-based products and artefacts. Many remaining woodlands were cut down for use in the World War I war effort. In the Great war’s aftermath Britain’s wood cover was at its lowest, covering less than 5% of the country, bringing on concern at the almost complete absence of harvestable forest stands and precipitating the formation of the Forestry Commission in 1919, tasked with building up a greater forest reserve.

The newly founded Forestry Commission launched afforestation programmes focused on fast growing conifer plantations with quick financial returns, while ignoring hardwoods and broader biodiversity issues. World War II replayed World War felling, and in this new war effort the country’s remaining deciduous woodlands were harvested leaving a decimated landscape, with only young monocultural conifer forests and small patches of smaller, weaker broadleaf woodlands left intact. In doing so, the remaining fragments of older British woods had been further depleted. Through the mid-century post-war period softwood plantation reforestation continued, so that by 1980 9% of the UK land was wooded or tree covered. This figure equalled about 314,000 hectares of scrub and coppiced land, 367,000 ha broadleaf (in total about 3% of total UK land) and the remaining 1,355,000 ha (6%) conifer. As has been repeatedly rehearsed the Forestry Commission, and successive Governments continued to overwhelmingly focus on the quick economic rationale for softwood forests and primarily non-native species which at harvest provide double the amount of usable wood – Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and Corsican pine. Plantations were generally on moorland or heath where fast-growing softwoods species grow twice as quickly as hardwoods. Still, through the 1980s and 90s a gradual if significant shift in thinking began in the Forestry Commission, towards managing woodlands as recreational, amenity, and conservation resources. One consequence was a partial emphasis and refocusing on hardwoods. There has also been a move towards more complex forestry management approaches, not least what is known as continuous cover forestry. Even so, the potential for restoring the balance between deciduous and conifer woodlands and in doing so, aiding some kind of return to the level of ecological biodiversity that existed before World War I, let alone prior to the industrial age, remains a distant dream.

Geography and Trees

The geography and Trees section of the British Isles is divided into the following specific regions.

Scotland, Wales, Northern England, Midlands and Eastern England, the South East, and the South West

The forests and woodland of Switzerland are very much the result of a mix of 19th century economics, history, and geography outlined in the introductory section. Geographical factors influence forests and wooded areas at a regional level, although with Switzerland being a mountainous and Alpine country, altitude is more influential than in most countries. As one moves up towards the tree line, forest and trees change, while they are markedly different in valleys and other the lower lying parts of the country.

Scotland

The geological Highland Boundary Fault Line divides Scotland into the culturally and historically distinctive Highland and Lowland regions, the fault line running from Arran and Helensburgh on the west coast to Stonehaven on the east. Both temperate coniferous and deciduous woodlands returned to the Scottish Highlands as glaciers receded around 7000 BC. The earliest trees to return were birch, willow, and alder before being joined by Scots pine and oak.

Today there are four primary ecological forest habitats across Scotland.

The southern Lowlands.
The northern central Highlands.
The south-west Highlands (Argyl, the inner Hebrides) and high north-east.
The Outer Hebrides, Northern Isles and northern mainland edges.

South of the Highland Boundary Fault Line woodlands are overwhelmingly deciduous, and mainly oak forests.

North of the Fault Line broadleaf forests give way to mainly conifer (stands), such as in the central Highlands where Scots pine, the remnants of the great Caledonian forests, predominate. Both in the far north-east and the south-west Highlands hazel and oak forests, along with pine, birch, and oak woods comprise the main species. Birch is spread across the sparsely wood-covered Outer Hebrides, Northern Isles and the northern edges of the Scottish mainland.

The Western coast of Scotland is the northerly home of small remnant pockets of ancient Atlantic Oak woods – also known as the Scottish or Celtic rainforests – fragments of which can be found running all the way down the Westerly side of Britain to Cornwall in the far south west, (and small pockets in the Peak District) all falling under the WWF’s description of a temperate rainforest ecosystem.

These temperate rainforests are only found in hyper-oceanic conditions, with year-round high rainfall levels. Today about 30,000 hectares or 2% of the original Scottish forests remain. For a lovingly illustrated and detailed overview of the Scottish Atlantic rainforests of Britain and Ireland see Drizzle, Midges, (Misery) and Moss by Ben Averis in pdf format here.

The once great Caledonian Forest sits inland within the rainforest ecosystem, which was one of the largest remaining forests directly descended from the old post glacial period beginning 9,000 years ago, although it is only a small fragment of what once existed, when this westernmost edge of the Boreal Taiga is thought to have covered an estimated 15,000 km2 (3,700,000 acres) before halving in extent. The surviving mosaic of forests are small, about 180 km2, although gradually increasing. Since the forests are a direct unbroken link to the earliest post-glacial woodlands and their ecological habitats, they have become a rallying focus point for environmental groups such as Trees for Life.

See below link and Fourth Door Review 4 People like Trees feature.

Welsh upland oak woods – Photo Cambrian Wildwood

Coed-Y-Brenin Sitka spruce woods in North Wales
Photo – Henrietta Williamson/Architype

Wales

Unlike in Scotland, by the early 20th century the level of deforestation in Wales had reduced woodland cover to almost as low as its neighbour, England. Through the post-glacial millennia various species established themselves, beginning with the pioneering species of juniper and pine, followed by birch, rowan, hazel, holly, and beech and oak, before becoming dominated by oak and hazel, until clearances began to reduce the scale of Welsh woodlands.

In the context of the British Isles, Wales is a highland zone; its ecology and geology, with oak and hazel establishing themselves as the dominant species. Clearing land for agriculture, and for political and military control, particularly the pacification by Edward I, saw a continual if gradual deforestation through the medieval and into the early modern period. By 1600, less than 10% of Wales was wood covered, and by the 1850s this had declined by another 50%. Today, what native woodlands exist in the landscape are fragmented and small, dating from up to 400 years ago and often found around farmsteads.

Welsh woodlands tend towards temperate rainforest ecosystems, known as Oakwood assemblages, or Western Oakwood, or Upland and Atlantic Oakwood, comprising sessile and pedunculate oak, with alder, ash, birch, holly, and rowan.

There are also Upland mixed forests which can feature birch, elm, hazel, oak and lime. Lowland Mixed Deciduous generally comprise a mix of oak species trees, ash, field maple, lime, hornbeam and wych elm. There are also lowland Beech and Yew woodlands, each with high levels of both respective trees. Finally Wet Woodland is made up of alder, birch, willow, and occasional ash, beech and oak.

Spread across the country, a breakdown of the total extant woodlands is 15% oak, 7% ash, 4% birch, 3% beech, and 9% other native broadleaves.

Beginning with the founding of the Forestry Commission (FC) in 1919, through the remaining decades of the 20th century, reforestation has accounted for a series of relatively modest increases in FC wood cover – obtaining 29,000 ha in 1939, and another 20,000 between 1946 and 1951. Through the decades this has increased the level of forested land across Wales to 135,000 ha, with its largest forests, Coed Y Brenin in North Wales, and Brechfa in Carmarthenshire. The reforestation effort has been focused on productive industrial forestry, plantations have until recently been generally monocultural, and primarily focused on quick growing and productive Sitka spruce trees.

Since the beginning of the new millennium there has been an increasingly visible schism between environmental priorities, who have supported broadleaf woodlands from recreational, amenity, landscape, and biodiversity standpoints, and a timber supporting network, including industry and campaign groups which argue that the environmental focus has meant the industry has been ignored. This has caused challenges and the loss of between 2000 and 2015 of 16,000 ha, a woodland area ‘the size of Cardiff’ according to Confor, the wood industry lobby body who produced the calculation. The Welsh Government produced its Woodlands for Wales forestry strategy in 2018, which sought to square the circle of these opposing interests.

In total there are 127,000 ha broadleaf, 109,000 ha conifer (including 63,000 ha Welsh Government/FC plantations), and 69,000 ha of other woodland, in all 306,300 ha across the country. Of this, Natural Resources Wales (the successor to the Forestry Commission) manages half, while the other half are owned by private concerns.

Houseden Hill in the Cheviot Hills, Northumbrian Borders – Photo – Richard Webb, Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

Kielder Forest – Photo – The boy that time forgot/Wikipedia

Coast to Coast – the New Northern Forest – Graphic Urban Green Up

Northern England (North West and North East)

Northern England is one of the least wooded parts of England. The region’s geography of deep valleys and uplands was formed in glacial times and are the backbone of the sparsely populated hilly and mountainous regions like the Peak and Lake Districts, where small remnants of the Atlantic Oak forests can still be found. Although once part of the wildwood which covered the entire British Isles, much of northern England was cleared of most its trees, woods, and forests during the late Bronze Age and into the Iron age for agricultural uses, especially in the north-east.

The soils of much of the upland areas are poor, making agriculture difficult, and the land has been given over to sheep. In the North East, planting for the country’s largest modern forest, Kielder, began in the 1920’s as one of the first acts of the newly created Forestry Commission. With the objective of restoring the low stocks of productive wood after World War I, Kielder Forest is the largest man-made woodland in the UK, covering 650 km2, much of it in the Border Forest Park. Primarily conifer, with three quarters Sitka spruce, Kielder’s forest is one of the only commercial and productive forests in the north.

In the North West there are sizable – though relatively small – woods in Cumbria; Grizedale in the Lake District (slightly under 2500 ha) and in Cheshire; Delamere (975 ha) and Macclesfield Forests, which are all under the responsibility of the FC. Delamere is part of a larger patchwork of woodlands and green spaces called the Mersey Forest. The low level of woodland across the whole of the industrial belt has resulted in the new Northern Forest which is planned to span the region from coast to coast. The 500,000 hectare – or 2% land cover – increase in woodland, in forests, meadows and wetlands, extends out from the east-west industrial M62 corridor and is intended to help revive depleted peat lands and counter carbon emissions from regional Peak District sheep and cattle farming.

Sherwoood forest in winter – Photo Ntol/Wikipedia  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Photo – Philip Halling/Geograph/cc-by-sa 2.0

At the edge of Thetford Forest, a grove of Scots Pine – Photo – Bob Jones Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

Midlands and Eastern England (West and East Midlands and East Anglia)

Like the North, the Midlands and Eastern England are only lightly and intermittently wooded. At the heart of the industrial revolution, much of the central Midlands was and still is a densely populated and low-lying land of clay and sandstone. To the west, land becomes more rural, supporting agriculture as well as higher uplands such as the Malvern and Shropshire Hill ranges. Across these western borders wood cover becomes more extensive.

Straddling the Shropshire and Worcestershire border is Wyre Forest, a semi-natural forest of 2600 ha – over 26 km2 – and is one the largest unmanaged ancient woodlands in the UK. Historically an oak forest, ash, beech, hazel, rowan and a variety of other species are also found in Wyre Forest, which is run by the Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership.

South-west of Birmingham, Warwickshire includes the historic Forest of Arden area. Little of Arden survives, although the new 3000 ha Heart of England Forest was planted over the millennium years by the publisher (including, once upon a time, Tree News) and tree lover, Felix Dennis, stretching from Arden’s northerly edges in the south to the Vale of Evesham in the north.

Beyond the large metropolitan and urban parts of the West Midlands, centred around Birmingham, much of the land is arable. To the east and north, land is mainly farmed or – historically – mined, supporting the industries which were forged through the 18th and 19th centuries. The East Midlands features the well-known, though small Sherwood Forest (425 ha), which includes 1000 old oaks and is considered one of the best surviving ancient oak and birch woodlands in Britain. A much more contemporary addition to the regional wood-scape is the National Forest, sitting in the middle of the country, consisting of nearly 52,000 ha (518 km2) and running from Leicestershire into Staffordshire. A Millennium regeneration project, it consists of mixed habitat woodland, with 8.9 million trees planted so far. There are other smaller millennium era regeneration-based woodland projects in this post-industrial part of Britain, such as the 900 ha Black Country Urban Forest project.

Eastern England, especially the large East Anglian counties, is different again. Much of the sea level region consists of low, flat, arable landscapes, the lowest in the UK, and includes Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the west across to the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coastline and the North Sea. Once wildwood, East Anglia was cleared to make way for heathland, farming, and the Fens, the low-lying marshland which is spread across the region. Native trees are deciduous, primarily oak, along with smaller levels of alder, ash, beech, hornbeam, horse chestnut, lime, birch, willow, and yew.At 7.3% wood cover, Eastern England is well below the English average, with broadleaf forest covering 60%, conifer 22%, and mixed woodlands 11%, out of which oak and pine constitute 26% and 79% of their respective hard and softwood totals.

Thetford Forest, the largest wooded area in East Anglia, and the largest lowland pine forest in the country. It was one of the  Forestry Commission’s earliest forests to be planted after its creation in the aftermath of World War I. Comprising 19,000 ha, Thetford forest links southern Norfolk with northern Suffolk. Originally the FC planned to plant fast growing Scots pine, although these stands were soon joined by Corsican pine, as the latter was more resilient, growing well on the thin and poor soil, and better able to resist various fungal diseases. After World War II the pines were joined by oak and beech, and conifer species; larch, and Douglas fir.

Sussex South Downland woods nr Brighton – Photo – Oliver Lowenstein

The South East 

The South East is cloaked in a considerably higher than average wood cover (13%) than England generally. In many parts of Sussex, Surrey, and Kent the level of woodland density is much greater compared to Scotland, with – in places – more than half the land wood covered. This southern arc is the most wooded area, before extending in and round to Hampshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire to the west and north-west. Further east, in Hertfordshire and Essex, the level of cover decreases.

The South East woodlands are a mix of deciduous and conifer, with broadleaf woods predominating. Although historically woods were felled for pre-industrial wood uses, comparatively considerable amounts of the woodlands have survived, in part due to intensive wood related industries in pre-modern times. Lying south of the furthest glacial reaches, geology, soil condition, and its lowland character favoured deciduous trees and woodlands. Today, many of the same hardwoods are found across the South East and include alder, beech, birch, hornbeam, oak and sweet chestnut, and softwoods although at much smaller levels; ash, pine and spruce and grand and noble firs, western hemlock and western red cedar.

There are both large and small forests across the South East. The largest is the New Forest in Southern Hampshire, covering 566 km2, with a mix of broadleaf woods, Forestry Commission plantations, and large areas of heathland. The New Forest region was turned into one of most recent National Parks in 2005. Other woods include the Ashdown Forest (2500 ha) in East Sussex, the Burnham Beechwoods in Berkshire, and Alice Holt Forest, close to Farnham, Surrey.

The region has long been home to forestry and wood culture traditions. Regional geography and geology have influenced the wood landscape, for instance, in the Weald, stretching across East Sussex and Kent, the mix of sandstone and clayey ground has meant poor soil conditions, militated against arable farming, helping the survival of woodlands although in some valleys richer soils allow for greater farming and horticulture. Sizeable rural woodland industries continued in places up until World War I. To the west, the Chiltern region of Buckinghamshire was historically home to a sizeable furniture and related wood industries.

Cardinham Woods, near Bodmin, Cornwall –Photo Forestry Commission Picture Library/John McFarlane

South and South West

Compared to more northerly England, the southern and South West peninsula region extending to Cornwall in the far west contains quite extensive woodlands and wood cover. The peninsula, often called the West Country, comprises three counties, Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, and sits on granite and igneous rock. Although relatively low lying, the rocky landscape includes upland moors. Further east, clayey vales found in Dorset, Wiltshire, and Avon provide farming land. The rolling chalk and lime downlands in Dorset and Wiltshire lime are less wooded and form the western edges of the Southern Chalk Foundations running from the North and South Downs further east. Up in the north west corner of the region, there are also the Cotswold hills in Gloucestershire, only coming to an end close to the River Severn.

There are distinctive woods and wooded landscapes in different parts of this already diverse geographical area. Deciduous trees are the primary species, making up 57% of total woodland. Conifer trees represent 23% and mixed woodland 14%, the remainder consists of open space with wooded cover. Oak and pine are the predominant trees, around one fifth of the total broadleaf and conifer cover across the region.

Woods and wooded areas can be found throughout the South West, with oak and hazel predominating. In Cornwall, the Trehidy woods are the largest in the west of the county, while Forestry England’s Cardinham woods and the Duchy of Cornwall forests south east of Bodmin are relatively large. A new 8000 ha ‘Forest for Cornwall’ was announced in 2019. Haldon Forest, west of Exeter is an FE forest, as is Bellever forest, an FE plantation first planted in 1931 on the edge of Dartmoor. Fingle, Harwick and Bovey Valley woods are all ancient woodlands. The Somerset levels are known for the drained wetlands, and as a nationally significant willow area. In Gloucestershire, the Forest of Dean is a historically famed forest and woodland region, while further east in Wiltshire the 1820 ha Savernake Forest consists primarily of oak and beech, and in Dorset, Wareham Forest is managed by the FE with a mixture of plantation conifers, broadleaf, and open heathland.

National Parks, Nature Reserves and certified Protected Areas

Abernethy – the largest native Scots pine woods in Britain, in
Scotland’s Cairngorm National Park
Photo – Richard Sutcliffe/CC BY-SA 2.0

Loch Katrine within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
Photo – Chris Rose

There are fifteen national parks in the UK, and an extensive network of nature reserves and protected areas, all of which include – to a greater or lesser extent – trees and woodland. The umbrella organising body for the English National Parks is National Parks England.

England is home to ten National Parks, Wales three, and Scotland two. As yet, here isn’t a Northern Ireland national park.

Scotland –  the Cairngorms, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Parks

Cairngorms National Park (Pàirc Nàiseanta a’ Mhonaidh Ruaidh).

The Cairngorms cover over 4500 km2 of the central north-eastern Highlands, a mix of mountainous, valley, strath, and loch landscapes. Over half the ancient Caledonian Forest – see Scotland Geography and Trees section – is in the park. These ancient pine woods are the largest in Scotland, and grow alone in the cold and dry east of the park. In the wetter west, the pine shares the park with alder, aspen, birch, hazel, holly, juniper, rowan, and willow, making for more diverse woodlands, canopies, and underwood fauna and flora.  Abernethy, close to the park’s mid-western edge is the largest native pine forest in Britain.

Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (Pàirc Nàiseanta Loch Laomainn is nan Tròisichean)

To the south of the Cairngorms, the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park  stretches across much of the western reaches of the Southern Highlands, running in an arc north of Glasgow.  At 1865 km2 in area, with Loch Lomond in its centre, the Trossachs comprise wooded hills, and glens to the loch’s east. Two forest parks; the Argyll and Queen Elizabeth Forest Parks, also sit within the national park, along with the Great Trossachs Forest National Nature Reserve, which is currently planned to cover 4400 ha (44km2). A long-term reforestation project focused on reintroducing Scottish native species over the next century, the Forest Nature Reserve is divided into three main areas, Glen Finglas to the east, Loch Katrine in the centre, and Inversnaid on the western boundary – see further below. Across the park as a whole, native woodlands comprise a quarter of the total woodland area, or nearly 7% of the park. Upland birch and oak are the most common trees, while native pine and wet woodland make up many of remaining trees.

Further – see Annular feature on Page\Park Architect’s Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park timber-frame HQ

One of the lochs in the Great Trossachs Forest
Photo – David Monniaux/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Scotland’s National Nature Reserves

The National Nature Reserves Partnership runs Scotland’s 49 nature reserves, which span the length and breadth of the country. Generally, the Nature Reserves comprise land featuring significant species and/or habitats. Many, though not all, of the reserves either include forests and woodlands. There are various woodland habitats found across the nature reserves, including Atlantic hazel, Western oakwood and Caledonian pinewoods. Here is a sample of nature reserves where these and other woodland habitats and individual tree species play an important role:

Abernethy Nature Reserve – within the ancient Caledonian forests and features old pinewood forests.

Ariundle Oakwoods NNR – part of Scotland’s Atlantic coastal rainforest in Lochaber’s Sunart area, the Ariundle oakwoods are old, native broadleaved woods on the south-east facing slopes of Strontian Glen on the northern side. Similar oak woods cover the larger Loch Sunart and comprise the most extensive continuous area of sessile oak in the British Isles.

Beinn Eighe & Loch Maree Islands – dating from 1951, Beinn Eighe was Britain’s first ever nature reserve. Today it covers 48 square kilometres with a mix of old Caledonian pine forests and recently restored woodland afforested from locally sourced seeds grown in the nature reserve’s nursery, integrating it into the larger Wester Ross landscapes.Clyde Valley Woodlands – south-east of Glasgow, the Clyde Valley consists of a mosaic of six ancient semi-natural deciduous woodlands, which today run along the twelve-mile length of the valley and are found in its deep gorges and beside the river.

Craigellachie – close to Aviemore, Craigellachie is one of nine nature reserves in the Cairngorms National Park. It is known for its silver birch trees, although there is a much broader diversity of tree species across the nature reserve.

Glasdrum Wood – on the west coast shores of Loch Creran, north-east of Oban, and part of the Atlantic coast rainforest biotope, Glasdrum woods are primarily comprised of ash and oak, while at ground level cloaked in mosses and lichens. Part of the larger woodland covering much of Glen Creran, native trees are left to regenerate with open glades as an ecological counterbalance.

Glen Affric valley – Photo – Grinner, Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Oak Woodland above Loch Sween, Taynish NNR, Photo Lorne Gill/SNH

Glen Affric – probably the most iconic of the glen forests, Glen Affric is part of the Great Caledonian Forest’s heartland and the whole glen has been made a nature reserve. It is home to a mix of birch and oak, and is the third largest ancient Caledonian pine wood in Scotland, with the whole glen stretching some 15 miles south-west from the Cainnich valley head entrance.

Glen Nant – another nature reserve on the wood filled western side of the country, Glen Nant sits inland of Oban, and is made up of oak woods which are part of the wider Argyll forests.

Invereshie and Inshriach – at the Cairngorm plateau’s western edges the Invereshie and Inshriach nature reserve is a mix of habitats determined by altitude and ground height. Caledonian pine woods to the west are found between 250 and 630 metres altitude and are considered one of the best examples of these ancient woodlands, though rowan, birch, aspen, alder, juniper and holly  are also found. On the higher alpine-arctic of the Cairngorm plateau, pines also grow, though long deformed by their exposure to the elements. The montane scrub zone round Creag Fhiaclachic is considered the only Scottish example of a truly natural tree line.

Muir of Dinnet – also within the Cairngorms National Park, the Muir of Dinnet features birch on lower ground and pine woodlands at higher elevations, among a broader mixed landscape of wetland heath, bogs, and pink granite rocky outcrops. Highland species such as rowan, willow, alder, juniper, and a small aspen woodland can also be found in the lower lying parts of the nature reserve woodlands.

Taynish NNR – covering much of the Taynish peninsula in the western Argyll and Bute, the nature reserve’s woodlands include remnants of Atlantic rainforest with considerable sessile oak woodlands, along with smaller amounts of ash, birch, and elder. A pdf of the story of the Taynish NNR is here.

The Great Trossachs Forest NNR – a major forest in the making, the Great Trossachs Forest is envisaged to cover 160 square miles of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park in the next two hundred years. The forest area includes Glen Fingles, Loch Katrine, and Inversnaid, with woodlands at a variety of densities and scales over around 44 km2, with the aim of creating a mixture of habitats, ensuring the protection of biodiversity, and restoring degraded ecological systems. The origins of the  Great Trossachs Forest, its present state, and its future ambitions are outlined here.

Gwydir Forest in Snowdonia – Photo – Hogyn Lleol Wikipedia Public Domain

Wales

Snowdonia – the mountainous north Wales region of Snowdonia was the first of three Welsh National Parks. Covering 2140 km2, Snowdonia National Park also includes valleys with considerable agricultural activity and sixty miles of coastline along the Irish Sea. Below the tree line there are mixed deciduous woodlands made up of Welsh oak, ash, birch, hazel and mountain ash. Sizeable FC planted coniferous forests include Gwydir Forest, comprising of 72 km2 on a plateau above Betws-y-Coed village. Commercial softwoods, such as Sitka and Norwegian spruce, Douglas fir, Japanese larch, and Scots’ pine growing on poor acidic soils, dominate the forest. More recently, broadleaf varieties including Welsh oak, beech, and ash have also been planted. 

Brecon Beacons – a range of mountains in the central and south eastern part of Wales. The Brecon Beacons National Park includes the Brecon Beacons, and extends from Llandelio in the west to Abergavenny in the east. The park is almost 1400 km2 in size, comprising four upland and mountainous areas, including the Black Mountains. Moorland predominates, although there is farm and woodland along the valley floors, and up the sides of the mountain ranges. Broadleaf woods remain in gulleys and alongside streams and mountainsides, often fragments of what existed in the past. Tree species are predominantly a mix of oak and ash, as well as hazel and holly in the understorey. Wetlands are also prevalent, as are conifer plantations, including the large Glasfynydd Forest at the headsprings of the river Usk.

The Pembrokeshire Coast – the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the coastal park around the West Wales peninsula, and as such does only includes woodlands in a marginal role.

Oak woods in Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – Photo – Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

Exmoor National Park – Photo – Visit Devon

England

Northern England and Midlands – Lake District, Northumberland, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, and Peak District National Parks

Northumbrian National Park – the most northerly English national park, sitting just below the Scottish borderland inland across the western half of Northumberland. With rolling hills at its northern edges, much of the 1000 ha park is moorland, and in the south east, lies Kielder – see northern geography and trees section – the large plantation forest initiated in the aftermath of the Forestry Commission’s formation one hundred years ago. A small number of old oak woodlands, such as Hareshaw Linn, are dotted across the park, although the small amount of woodlands reflects the overall low wood cover figure of just 8% of all Northumberland.

North York Moors – also on the north-eastern side of the country but further south, the North York Moors National Park is a predominantly upland moorland plateau in North Yorkshire, punctuated with deep dales and valleys covering 1430 km2. Heather is prolific across much of the moorland although woods in the south east and south west cover 22% or 300 km2 of the park’s grounds. Oak, ash, birch, and rowan are typical native trees, along with hazel and hawthorn near the forest floor. Larger broadleaf trees are found in lower lying river valleys such as the Esk, where watery uplands are home to alder. There are considerable conifer woodlands, such as the 8000 ha Dalby, Cropton, and Boltby Forests swathed across the south of the park,  alongside commercial plantations, and to the south west boundary are extensive ancient woodlands in and around the slopes of the Herwardian Hills – including Duncombe Park.

Yorkshire Dales National Park – in North Yorkshire, taking in eastern Cumbria and a small part of Lancashire. Nearly 2200 km2 in size, the park sits atop the northern end of the Pennines chain of hills, with a network of dales and river valleys running through them, formed as glaciation withdrew north at the beginning of the Holocene era 10,000 years ago. In contrast to the North York Moors National Park, there is only a small amount of wood cover, with semi-natural woodland covering 1% of the whole park. Ash is the most common upland tree, the canopy also consisting of wych elm, sycamore and, closer to the ground, downy birch, rowan, and hawthorn. Nearly all oaks have disappeared due to overuse, although there are oak woods in the Bolton Abbey Estate and dotted around Wharfdale and Ingleton Waterfall. There are ongoing woodland management schemes for the ancient semi-natural woodlands working towards greater restoration.

Lake District – in the North Western side of the North, the Lake District National Park. The largest park in England and Wales covering 2362 km2. Geologically, the region is an upland massif with a series of rivers and river valleys radiating out from the uplands. With substantial higher ground, woodland and wood cover is only found below the tree line. The woodlands, covering 12% or 28,500 ha of the park, are principally oak woodlands, some of which are ancient woodlands. There are conifer plantations – about 9,500 ha – in Whinlatter Pass and Grisedale which are mainly FC owned and managed. 

Midlands and Eastern England – the Peak District and the Broads 

Peak District – sitting at the southern end of the Pennine chain of hills the Peak District National Park is Britain’s first national park, opened in 1951. The upland region is a rocky post-glacial landscape primarily comprised of moorlands. There is still 8% wood cover on the park’s land, other broadleaf woodlands around lower lying dales, valleys of the agricultural White Peak, and ash on higher hillside ground. A further 150 small woodlands cover about 500 ha of land, oak, and birch on Dark Peak’s upland hillsides and conifer plantations are found around its water catchments managed by FE.

East Anglian Broads -encompass both Suffolk and Norfolk, are generally more watery than wooded. With its extensive network of waterways, lakes, and rivers the Broads National Park consists of an easily identifiable east of England geographical landscape. The park does feature woodlands, although these are modest compared to other parks and regions. These include native broadleaf woodland, including oak, and particularly carr woodland, consisting of unmanaged, waterlogged, and wild fen marshlands. These are seasonally flooded by overflowing rivers in parts of the Broads, including the Broadland, the Brecks, and the Wensum parts of Norfolk, where alder, birch and willows are all prolific. Sedges, rushes, and reeds are also a mainstay of the fen landscape.

The Sussex downland edge of the South Downs National Park
Photo – Les Chatfield/Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Ancient yew trees – Photo – Kingly Vale Herbidacious
– an Englishman’s Garden Adventures

South East, Southern and South West England – The South Downs, New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks

South Downs National Park – ten years old in 2021 the most recent national park to be created. A long chalk escarpment ridge of hills running from Eastbourne in the east to Winchester on its westerly boundary, wood cover in the park is 23%, the largest proportion in all the national parks.  The main species are deciduous and include oak, ash, beech, sweet chestnut, and yew, including the ancient Kingly Vale yew groves, with the woodlands found primarily on the western side of the park.

New Forest National Park – much of which stands on what was historically a royal forest originally used for hunting. Covering 566km2, the park includes 146km2 of primarily deciduous woodland, consisting ash, beech, elm, holly, oak and yew some of which are designated ancient trees going back 400 plus years. Sitting on the Hampshire Basin, the low-lying geology is primarily sedimentary rock. Heathland and conifer plantation comprise much of the remainder of the pine, with 84km2 of tree plantations including Scots pine, birch, and Douglas fir and is managed by the Forestry Commission. Over 100km2 is heathland.

Dartmoor National Park – primarily upland moorland sitting across south west Devon. Covering 954km2, Dartmoor’s poor acidic soil, granite rock-bed, and high exposed land precludes against extensive woods taking roots and growing. Upland woodland, primarily oak, is found across upland areas, including Wistman’s Wood, Yarner Wood, Bovey Valley, and Dendles Wood. These are designated ancient woodland as they are generally four hundred and more years old.  Steep valley sides provide protective shelter for broadleaf woods, again mainly oak, as well as birch, with rowan, hazel and holly in the understorey. Wet woods are also a part of the landscape, home to alder and willow. Forestry England plantation woodlands can be found at Bellever and Burrator.

Exmoor National Park – by contrast is a smaller moorland area in the North of Devon and bordering West Somerset. Woodlands cover of just under 9400 ha or 13.5% of the park and are primarily sessile oak and downy birch, with hazel in some places, generally found in the poor soil of cold and wet uplands. In more protected lowland valleys English oak, birch, rowan, and elm grow. Ash grows on the sides of many water streams running down from the upland. Many woodlands are considered ancient, and there are various ‘special’ trees including rare whitebeam trees which are only found on Exmoor.

Yorkshire Arboretum – Photo – Yorkshire Arboretum

The Westenbirt Arboretum tree canopy walkway – Photo – Glenn Howells Architects

Bedgebury Pinetum, East Sussex – Photo – Ron Strutt Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0

Arboreta and wood gardens

Arboreta

There is a network of Arboreta which have grown up across Britain since the first arboretum opened in Derby in 1840. Here is a cross section of the different arboreta found across the country:

Yorkshire Arboretum – sited near Malton, North Yorkshire, the arboretum is home to over 5000 different tree species from temperate regions worldwide, including Chile and the Australasian continent, covering 120 acres situated within the Castle Howard Estate. Along with the estate, the arboretum is co-managed by Kew Gardens, which has provided various species sourced from research expeditions led by Kew. A data base is here and an interactive map here.

Westonbirt, the National Arboretum – close to the Gloucestershire town of Tetbury and run by Forestry England, Westonbirt is considered the most extensive of the country’s arboreta and of national significance, hence its title of the National Arboretum. With over 15,000 trees and shrubs, of which 2500 are species collected from different parts of the planet. within grounds extending over 600 acres. With a considerable focus on the general public and educational attractions, the arboretum includes several nature and walk trails and a 300 metre tree canopy walkway designed by Glenn Howells Architects.

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens – near to the Hampshire town of Romsey, these gardens were originally founded by Sir Harold Hillier, before being gifted to Hampshire County Council in 1977. There are over 42,000 trees and shrubs in the arboretum, from around 12,000 different species types or taxa, including specialist collections of oaks, camelias, magnolia and rhododendron.

Further – see here for an Annular Archive feature on the Sir Harold Hillier Garden visitor centre

Derby Arboretum – the country’s first arboretum, originally opened in 1840 and is known as the first landscaped recreational public park. Recently restored, the arboretum includes what are considered a special collection of Grade II listed trees.

Attenborough Arboretum– covering five acres within Leicester University’s Harold Martin Botanic Garden, the Attenborough Arboretum is used for research and teaching by the Genetics department. The arboretum consists of native trees, their planting reflecting the chronology in which they originally seeded in Britain as the Ice-age glaciers receded, beginning with Scots pine, juniper, hazel, and birch, and ending with the most recent; beech, which pollen research suggests first occurred 7,500 years ago.

Bedgebury National Pinetum – the arboretum is to conifer and pine species what Westonbirt is to more general tree species; together they form the UK National Arboreta. Originally known as the National Conifer Collection when it opened in 1925 in the East Sussex village, Bedgebury is known for one of the most extensive and complete conifer collections in the world, with over 10,000 evergreen trees, and 7000 species found in temperate climates over its 320 acre grounds, which are kept as a living gene bank and future genetic resource.

Kew Gardens and the tree canopy walkway – Photo – Diliff/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Kew Gardens

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – while primarily known as a world renowned and iconic botanic garden, Kew Gardens is both home to its own arboretum with many species of trees and is a leading centre for tree related science and research.

The arboretum includes over 14,000 trees from more than 2000 species forming a formidable repository of knowledge and information. As at Westonbirt, there is also a tree canopy walkway path (which preceded Westonbirt) by Marks Barfield Architects (designers of the London Eye).

Under the broader umbrella of the botanic gardens, a significant number of Kew’s 350 science and research staff are involved in extensive tree and woodland related research, both internationally and here in Britain. This includes its internationally recognised Global Tree Seedbank Programme within the Millennium Seed Bank, genomic related research into ash dieback, and international projects like the conservation and livelihood balance research in the Mozambique Forest belt

Wakehurst Place – in Mid-Sussex, both house and gardens are managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens (though owned by the National Trust) and serve as a further centre for botanic and tree research, alongside being the site of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. Wakehurst Place hosts the national collection of birch, beech, and several species of evergreen shrubs. There are several woodland walks including Coates Wood, comprising trees from Australasia and South America.

Places - cities and towns

Trees for Cities legacy tree planting project, Seven Kings Park, South London – Photos – Trees for Cities

Elephant Park street furniture – Photo – Lantern

Major cities in Britain are home to urban forests and woodland, and in a few instances, clusters of timber buildings.

Urban woodlands

Urban woodlands, green spaces, and trees in cities and towns have risen up the social and political agenda in recent years and are likely in the wake of the pandemic to do so further. Across the four UK countries, a patchwork of organisations have emerged, which are advancing different elements of the urban forests and trees agenda.

Urban woodland organisations

Community Forest – a publicly funded charity focused on tree planting in and around cities and urban areas in England. Linked to broader regeneration and place making objectives, and working with local community groups and partners such as Forestry England, Community Forest is involved in eight regional community forest projects and five community forest initiatives primarily across the north west and north east. A map of projects is here.

Trees for Cities -a nationwide and international charity committed to city and urban tree planting programmes. Working on the ground with local communities in deprived – and tree poor – parts of cities, Trees for Cities aim to reconnect people with their landscapes and with nature, highlighting the multiple benefits of trees in cities from health and well-being and climate resilience, to edible playgrounds, healthy food, and foraging. Trees for Cities work internationally and are part of the international trees in cities network.   

Urban Forest Research Group – sits within Forest Research, the principal public body tasked with wood and forestry related research. The group offers research information and consultancy across a spectrum of related issues.

A special issue entitled Urban Food Forestry: current state and future perspectives published within the Journal of Urban Forestry & Urban Greening vol 45 (2019).

Trees & Design Action Group (TDAG) – highlights the part urban forests can play in cities, towns, and other urban fabrics across Britain, believing this is underscored by designers, planners, and construction understanding and working collaboratively on integrating trees into urbanscapes. Founded in 2007, TDAG co-ordinates events and meetings, produces best practice guidance, and disseminates knowledge and research, all of which has grown with the rise of green infrastructure as a focus for urban design.Lantern – is a small company who set up the London Wood Enterprise to connect people and organisations together in the London wood supply chain to promote best use of felled trees and reduce waste. Working with woodland managers, Lantern connects makers and designers with otherwise low value wood to use for recycled furniture. At a major South London development, Elephant Park, Lantern delivered street furniture and interior design from trees which were not suitable for milling.

Mossbourne Academy, Hackney under construction and completed
Photos RSH-P

Sheffield Winter Gardens, an example of timber in a steel (and brick and concrete) city – Photo – PRS Architects

Urban timber build clusters

London

Within the capital and wor, Hackney borough have led not only the UK but the early 21st century international timber resurgence, at least in urban timber. Although there are not as yet any of the tall timber projects currently competing for the tallest timber title in the world, London is internationally recognised as having become the city with the highest concentration of urban timber, and specifically CLT buildings across the world’s capitals and major cities. The early history of this growth of CLT in London projects is explored in this Detail Green 2011 feature on the materials uptake in Britain. For an in-depth overview of how Hackney became the local authority identified as the centre of this activity.

See Unstructured Extra’s CLT edition feature  Hackney, Improbable world centre of CLT.

The growth of London’s urban timber is acknowledged as being at risk, due to CLT and engineered timbers falling under ‘flammable’ building materials definitions by regulation brought on by the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, with no timber buildings now allowed over 18m, and further legislation currently in its consultation phase looks set to reduce this to 11m maximum height.

Other UK cities and urban centres

In no other UK city has such an identifiable cluster of timber projects emerged, and although smaller towns contain historical and vernacular timber buildings aplenty, to date there aren’t quarters or zones with such concentration of buildings, which are either technically innovative or ground-breaking or use timber in architecturally daring ways. This isn’t to say that increasing amounts of housing, either traditional or now modular and prefabricated isn’t using timber structurally, nor that there aren’t many more CLT and engineered timber buildings – particularly in schools and HE education projects – but simply that there aren’t the cities or towns that jump out with strings of striking or interesting examples to their bow to illustrate this period of sustainability regulation led growth in timber buildings

Neither in Scotland’s main cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow – nor in Wales’s capital Cardiff or other major cities, such as Swansea, have large scale timber projects emerged. The have also not been adopted in more modest projects, beyond mass housing and the realms of showcases. In Wales, an early example is the devolved Welsh Government’s National Assembly for Wales by RSH + Partners (2005).

Similarly, Edinburgh’s Parliament features striking internal timber design work, but the building isn’t fundamentally a timber building. In one of the Scottish capital’s main parks, Cullinan Studio’s Inverleith Gardens, Cullinan Studio finally got to build the structural timber lamella they’d been wanting to do for many years, for the Gateway Visitor Centre.

See Unstructured 5’s Cullinan timber journey feature.

Up and down England, in large and mid-sized cities, one can also uncover one-offs. Right in the middle of Sheffield’s steel, stone, and concrete city centre there another timber lamella, PRS Architects Winter Gardens.

See the Annular Archive feature on PRS.

In Worcester, FCB Studios experimented with CLT for the expressive, open roof of its gold-plated Hive Library and History Centre and in Norwich two very different timber examples; Sheppard Robson’s Open Academy is an early example of CLT and engineered timber emergence amidst the noughties’ schools building programmes, and Architype’s Adapt Enterprise Centre on the UEA campus highlights a mix of CLT, reused wood and regional Thetford Forest Corsican pine as part of a broader natural materials showcase.

See Detail Green feature here.

The list, however, doesn’t go on and on. Despite this it seems clear that, proportionate to the past, more timber buildings are going up, as the engineering, architecture, and materials become better known and mainstream.

Forest, woodland and tree related organisations – Charities, NGO’s and independent organisations


England

The Woodland Trust – the UK’s largest forest and trees charity with over 250,000 members. Nearing 50 years since its creation in 1972, the charity is focused on protecting ancient woodlands, creating and maintaining resilient landscapes, and planting and protecting native species. According to its own accounts, it has planted 42 million trees and currently owns over 1000 publicly accessible sites, covering over 24,700 hectares (247 km2), of which a third is estimated to be ancient woodland. The Trust co-ordinates campaigns, undertakes research – such as this Iconic oak research – and supports regional hubs from its HQ in Grantham. To advance its aims it works in partnership with other wood focused organisations and companies, at community, business, and political lobbying levels.

The Woodland Trust Grantham HQ, designed by FCB Studios, was one of the practices first CLT projects and opened in 2010.

The Wildlife Trust – this grassroots charity is one of the best-known organisations serving a UK wide nature reserve network. Although not specifically focused on woodlands and trees, the Wildlife Trust’s aim of bringing people into a closer relationship with the natural environment very much involves the wooded dimension.  With 850,000 members, over 2300 nature reserves, and 46 semi-independent Wildlife Trusts across the UK, the Trust is a leading source of nature connection for many people.  These individual Trust networks represent counties, with 37 in England, 5 in Wales, and a single umbrella trust in Scotland, which together also include over 100 visitor and education centres. See also Scotland and Wales.

The Tree Council – describing themselves as tree champions, they support making trees matter in communities, encouraging people to become involved with trees and providing research and information on current tree related issues, such as combatting tree diseases.

Royal Forestry Society  – is the oldest of the wood and trees related charities, founded in 1882, with a core focus on woodland management. With a network of regional centres the RFS maintains an educational programme spanning foresters and woodland managers, training future foresters, children, and young people. The society also carries out research, organises conferences and events, produces regular publications and reports, and also the quarterly Journal of Forestry.                      

Ancient Tree Forum – a specialist tree organisation engaged in protecting ancient and veteran trees. The Forum is involved in bringing attention to old trees and their value to the public and communities, offering guidance on their care, undertaking research, training, and events that share and foster broader knowledge and awareness, including at the lobbying policy levels. It also conducts surveys and recording of ancient trees, and contributes to the Ancient Tree Inventory programme co-led by the Woodland Trust and the Tree Register.

Future Trees Trustemerged in 2008 out of the British and Irish Hardwood Improvement Programme and is at the forefront of tree genetics research and testing a variety of native hardwoods with a focus on improving the quality of hardwood tree species to potentially add to the species of trees available as timber resources. The hardwood species under research are ash, birch, cherry, sweet chestnut, oak, sycamore, and walnut.

National Tree Improvement Inventory – the Future Trees Trust is a founding partner (with Confor and Forest Research). Its strategy and programme is outlined here.

Living Ash Project and Action Oakof which Future Trees are also members.

British and Irish Hardwood Improvement Programme (BIHIP) – was founded in 1991 after identifying a need for improving the genetics of British broadleaf tree species after a century of neglect and felling. The vast majority of Britain’s deciduous trees, including the healthiest and most resilient, were felled as part of the World War I war effort. The then newly created Forestry Commission focused on conifer plantation and afforestation until the 1980s, and what modest early deciduous planting had occurred was again felled during World War II, leaving the relatively small broadleaf woodlands and trees low in biological and genetic quality.

Continuous Cover Forest Groupu (CCFG) – national membership-based network which promotes the approach and principles of continuous cover, or ‘close to nature’, forest management, as a low impact forestry and silvicultural system. Membership includes forest site visits, web-newsletters and workshops. The group is also connected to related and like-minded international organisations.

Sylva Foundationforester and wood activist Gabriel Hemery is the brains behind the Foundation, an Oxfordshire based education charity.  It spans scientific forestry research, dissemination of knowledge for the general public and at educational levels, wood-based craft, design, and building. With a Wood Centre hosting its Wood School, various web-based platforms like MyForest, and outreach educational community projects like Forest Schools for All, alongside a broad spectrum of research and other professional services, the Sylva Foundation provides a cross-disciplinary approach to forestry, woods, and trees.

Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF)- a professional body representing arboricultural specialists and foresters in the UK. With over 1800 members, the Institute provides support, guidance, information, professional development, and oversees professional standards for becoming a chartered arboriculturalist or forester. With a network of regional groups the ICF hosts regular events, conferences, and online resources.

Arboricultural Association – one of the core voices of those involved in the recreational and amenity tree world. At nearly sixty years old, it supports arbiculturalists and tree surgeons as well as a growing membership with the arrival and mainstreaming of the public sector arboricultural professionals, such as tree officers. The Association provides training, events, courses, and accreditation alongside regional branches.

Agroforestry Research Trust – a hub for agroforestry expertise, information, courses, events related to drawing together and growing both woodland and horticultural crops on the same land. It oversees the Forest Garden Greenhouse and other projects, conducts research, hosts the Agroforestry and Forest Garden Network, and provides a sales outlet for tree and plants.

Woodland Heritage – founded by a group of traditional cabinet makers aiming to improve the way in which trees are, grown, maintained, and harvested in the UK. With their own Whitney Sawmill, the Hereford based group runs a variety of projects. These include regular workshops, supporting the cross-fertilisation of forestry with design, craft, and the use of hardwoods through courses and workshops which familiarise participants in the whole life cycle of woody materials, participation in the Action Oak project and research into free growth silviculture. The organisation publishes an annual Woodland Heritage Journal.

Permaculture Association – representing proponents of permaculture, the popular grassroots approach to land management, the Association naturally includes woodlands and wood growing within its philosophical approach to working and designing with nature. Permaculture includes a built fabric dimension, which is discussed further below, although in woodland management terms its principles are closely aligned to agroforestry and Forest Gardening in particular.

National Coppicing Federation– formed in 2013 to provide a unified voice for coppicers, (coppicing is a method of pruning trees and their branches to enable the tree to grow more fully and healthily), it aims to highlight the varied benefits of coppicing as an approach to managing woodlands, disseminate best practice, information and resources, with the website featuring regional groups in different parts of the country.

Small Woods Association Social Forestry events and the Green Wood Centre – Photos – Small Woods Association

Small woodland and community groups and networks

Small Woods Association – a nationwide network providing support, information, and practical help for small woodland owners and those managing them. With an estimated 25% of all woodland being between 2 and 20 hectares, the association provides practical guidance towards lower impact sustainable approaches to managing, conserving, and rehabilitating small woods. It runs its Green Woods Centre near Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, with a regular calendar of events, including a focus on social forestry, forest school learning, and professional development courses.

Small Woodland Owners Group  – a forum of woodland owners, which provides a helpful resource for small woodland owners with an active forum and blog for small woodland enthusiasts.

Coppice – a small and informative site providing an overview of coppicing – from biology through to management and products. Regional coppicing networks and groups include the Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group – coppice workers in south-east England to promote the industry and its products – and the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen Group.

The Luddite – a Devon-based one-man band who offers reconditioned hand tools used for woodlands/forestry/coppicing as well as repairing old and used tools.

Coppice Products – provides an online presence for those making products and artefacts from coppiced materials. A wide cross section of products, from art baskets to beanpoles, can be found on this geographically and product organised site.

Glenn Affric, Trees for Life’s reforestation of the Great Caledonian forest – Photo – Trees for Life

Birds-eye view of the reforestation undertaken by the Borders Forest Trust – Image – Borders Forest Trust

Scotland

Trees for Life – Scottish organisation dedicated to bringing back the Country’s great Caledonian Forest. The Caledonian forest once ranged right across Scotland’s central highlands, although today only a 2% remnant wildwood with links to the early Holocene, 10,000 or so years ago remains – see Scotland: Geography and Trees section above. Founded by Alan Watson Featherstone in 1986, much of the planting and afforestation groundwork is carried out by volunteers, initially in Glenn Cannoch and Glenn Affric and more recently Glenn Moriston with over 1.5 million trees so far planted. As one of the pioneer rewilding projects Trees for Life’s long term vision is a returned Caledonian Forest, with its ecology restored and inhabited by the original wildlife found millennia ago, including wolf, lynx, bear and beaver.

Working with Forestry and Land Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the RSPB, Trees for Life are also engaged in tree propagation, research and cross country and international rewilding projects.

There is an informed and informative overview here of the trees that live and grow across the Great Caledonian Forest, on its ecological conditions here and on rewilding here.

A Fourth Door Review feature on Trees for Life appears in Fourth Door Review 4 here People like Trees  

Woodland Trust Scotland – the Scottish arm of the Woodland Trust manages 60 woodland sites covering 11,000 hectares spread across the country. It has been involved in woodland crofting since 2015, supporting Croft Woodlands over 1000 hectares of land. Woodland Trust Scotland are also one of the partners of the Alliance for Scottish Rainforests campaign.

Scottish Wildlife Trust – in existence since 1965, like its fellow other UK Wildlife Trusts, the Trust’s focus is wildlife and particularly at-risk species. Considered the country’s most established nature and conservation charity, it is directly involved in campaigning and lobbying for the types of biodiverse habitats that ensure wildlife survives and thrives, including uplands and native woodlands. The native woodlands support wildlife in ways that non-native woodlands do not. They manage a network of about 120 wildlife reserves across the country.

Reforesting Scotland – a pioneer of the Scottish networks working towards a healthy reforested woodlands culture and country. This grassroots charity is engaged with on-the-ground re-afforestation, woodland and other community-based projects, land reform, events, educational work, building, research, and publications. The 1000 Huts initiative is the most recent of their projects, while their regular Reforesting Scotland Journal is published bi-annually.

Scottish National Trust (SNT) – whilst it is not an organisation specifically focused on wood or trees, the SNT like its sister NT organisations manages 88 properties and is responsible for more than 76,000 hectares of land, a significant part of which includes overlaps with wood related concerns. This extends to both timber buildings old and new, woodlands and individual trees, which given the SNT’s commitment to carbon reduction best practice, along with it being the country’s largest membership organisation (365,000 members), translates into across-the-board wood related activity throughout the trust.Borders Forest Trust – originally set up in 1996 to restore native woodland in the Southern Borders region of Scotland, the Borders Forest Trust has planted over a million trees and returned considerable hectarage of land to ecologically restored woodlands, with the aim of reviving interest in woodland cultures and working in partnership with local communities.

Native Woodlands Discussion Group (NWDG) – a natural history and research network which emerged out of the Scottish Woodland History Group in 2006, consists of a spectrum of specialists across disciplines and professions related to woods and trees. The NWDG publishes a bi-annual newsletter, runs workshops, visits and tours, and hosts an annual conference.

Atlantic Rainforests – Illustration and photo – from Ben Averis’s Drizzle, Midges, (Misery) and Moss

John Muir (left), and one of the John Muir Trust’s rewilding projects (right), the Glenlude forest in the Borders – Photos – John Muir Trust

Drizzle, Midges, (Misery) and Moss – a lovingly illustrated and detailed overview of the Atlantic rainforests of Britain and Ireland by Ben Averis is presented in pdf format here (link from the NWDG site).

Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest (formerly the Atlantic Woodland Alliance) – an alliance of twenty of Scotland’s leading nature and forest organisations and public bodies which together are working to bring back Scotland’s Atlantic coast mixed woodlands, towards joining up the small remnant rainforest woodlands scattered across the country’s western edge. Among a raft of early projects, the Alliance is working on ‘landscape scale’ exemplars include Morvern Rainforest and Glen Creran. A resources page is here and includes a Woodland Trust report: The State of Scotland’s Rainforest downloadable here.

Woodland Crofts – although still relatively rare in Scotland, woodland crofts are becoming established, and the Woodland Crofts website is a community hub, information point and source for finding out about woodland crofting, and potentially available crofts to take on. Describing woodland crofting as ‘family forestry’ or small-scale forestry, the site has been set up to support and assist those interested in becoming involved and taking on a woodland croft.  

Community Woodlands Associationrepresents and promotes over 200 local Scottish woodland groups across the country, supporting, and providing an umbrella network to share knowledge and experience through seminars, conferences, and other events.

Scottish Furniture Makers Association (SFMA) – an umbrella group for a network of furniture makers, designers, and crafts people working in wood the length and breadth of the country, with the stated aim of highlighting the best in Scottish craftsmanship and design. A list of all SFMA participating members can be found here.

John Muir Trusta wilderness preservation charity, restoring areas of wilderness and combating inappropriate developments. The Trust owns eight pieces of wild land and is reforesting and regenerating woodlands on some of these sites, including 1255 ha at Knoydart, on the West Coast, where the land is being returned to wildwood after overgrazing by sheep and deer.

Future Woodland Scotland (FWS) – supports new approaches and perspectives on how to improve and grow Scotland’s indigenous forests and woodlands, providing grants to help research supporting these objectives. FWS grew out of the Scottish Forests Alliance, a body which established 5000 ha of land over fourteen sites for varied field research and trials. FWS is particularly engaged with biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, supporting research at its own fourteen sites, as well as other independent sites such as the Great Trossachs Forest– see also the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park entry.

Tir Coed schools project – Photo South Wales Guardian

Cambrian Wildwood’s Bwlch Corog rewilding project – Photo – Cambrian Wildwood

Wales

Wildlife Trusts Wales/Natur Cymru – part of the UK wide Wildlife Trust network, there are six Wildlife Trusts in Wales. The Trust has an overlapping remit like the other national networks and provides similar kinds of connections into wildlife and nature, providing resources, running events, and education programmes. The six Welsh centres and Living Landscapes are also involved in lobbying, with related work aimed at influencing policy and planners. A position paper on Forestry and woods is here.

Llais y Goedwig – the umbrella organisation for the grassroots Welsh community woodland groups. With over 800 members and 90 community groups represented, it supports and highlights this network of woodland groups – map here – by providing resources, raising Welsh community woodlands’ profiles, co-ordinating events, facilitating networking, and acting as a bridge to influence policy makers, politicians, and planners.

Small Woods Wales – the Welsh section of the Small Woods Association, connecting woodland owners and managers across the country. It runs Actif Wood Wales,a health-through-nature oriented project, and further programmes and research, as well events, training, and providing resources and information for its members.

Tir Coed – a charity that connects people with woodlands through a spectrum of training and volunteering activities aimed at improving well-being and developing skills, while nurturing connections with woodlands and trees for both the individual and broader community benefit.

Cambrian Wildwood/Coetir Anian – run by the Wales Wild Land Foundation, the project is gradually returning their Bwlch Corog land to wildwood, with 8000 trees being planted across what has been a relatively treeless upland landscape, and restoring ancient woodland  across the land – see ancient woodland report here.

Woodlands Skills Centre with over 50 acres of wooded land, the centre runs community and family-oriented courses and events covering a diverse range of woodland skills, crafts, and woodland management training from its mid-Wales Denbigh home, where its centre and permanent forest school are located.

Mighty Oak – the backbone of the English timber building tradition – Photo Peter Cole

Trees species – further information

English, Scottish, and Welsh tree species

Oak, elm, beech, and ash are the most common native trees in England, although the latter is being seriously adversely affected by ash dieback disease. In Scotland, pine and birch are the most common. There are many other native species including alder, apple, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, juniper, poplar, sycamore, willow, and yew. For a comprehensive list see the Woodland Trusts A-Z of Trees here.

In the last century, fast growing non-native softwood species including Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, and Corsican pine, have been introduced because of advantages as productive trees for the timber industry. Generally, these non-native species grow twice as quickly and are therefore ready for harvesting in half the time compared to hardwood species.

The Woodland Trust maintains a good general database of trees in the British Isles, split between native and non-nativee species.

Forest Research also include a general database of tree species on their website.

The Tree Register of Britain and Ireland is a data-base, archive, and mapping exercise of 200,000 trees across the two islands, including 69,000 champion trees – the tallest and widest of girth. As the Register is a charity, full access to the register is available by membership only.

European Atlas of Forest Tree Species – the first comprehensive book and atlas dedicated to Europe’s trees. Informed by scientific and sylvicultural involvement and insight, the atlas provides up to the minute information on the trees of Europe’s forests, and is available through the website. It is also here as a downloadablepdf.

There’s a helpful visual introduction to the biological structure of trees on the Design & Technology wiki page, which can be found here.

Tree structure – Diagram – DT Wikisite on the structure of trees.

Oak frame and pegs – Photo Carpenter’s Fellowship

Timber related tree species

There are only a limited number of trees suited to use as timber. The Wood Technology Society provides a comprehensive overview of timber related tree species,breaking them down into separate, European, North American and Asian timber woods sections.

Wood Finder database – independently created by Eric Meier the database provides a wealth of primarily technical information about woods and their chemical and technical properties set against a variety of variables, e.g. strengths, shrinkage, and weight in relation to height and diameter. The site also includes helpful links to other websites, individuals and organisations involved in comparable work.

The TRADA site features a database of timber specieswith its own set of variables for a range of commercial species.

Edinburgh’s Centre for Wood Science and Technology’s blogsite, maintained by Dr Daniel Ridley-Ellis, also provides a thorough run through of tree species in relation to grading and strength.