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Impacts of large herbivores on woodlands

Flower heads removed from oxlips by deerSummary

The aim of this programme is to improve our advice both on reducing the damage caused by large herbivores as well as on the use of large herbivores as a management tool to achieve biodiversity objectives.

Heavy grazing by domestic stock and wild deer can result in severe damage to planted trees in both new native woodlands and in commercial forestry. It can also prevent natural tree regeneration and reduce populations of valuable ground layer plant species. In many cases this will be undesirable however the prevention, or reduction, of tree regeneration, and the control of competitive ground layer species, is often necessary to create the conditions that many species of woodland flora and fauna require. Thus large herbivores can be either agents of damage or a valuable management tool.

Research objectives

  • To improve our understanding of the factors affecting the relationship between herbivores densities and damage to young trees and ground flora in commercial and non-commercial woodlands
  • To assess the long-term implications of herbivore impacts in woodlands, and the effects on fauna and bio-diversity
  • To develop computer models that will help managers to predict future deer populations and the impact of large herbivores on woodlands
  • To develop both quantitative and qualitative methods of assessing the impact of deer and domestic stock on woodlands
  • To further develop existing methods of assessing deer population density.



Group of red deer on Scottish hillside


Sheep grazing in mature mixed hardwoods

Our research aims to improve our advice both on reducing the damage caused by domestic livestock as well as on the use of domestic livestock as a management tool to achieve biodiversity objectives.

Other large herbivores

Publications about ...

Decision support tools and guides

Funders and partners

Forestry Commission logo
Most of this work forms part of the Vertebrate management research programme funded by the Forestry Commission.

Work on some projects is performed in partnership with and is funded by other institutions and organisations.

Forestry Commission policy

The Forestry Commission implements Government policy on both woodland biodiversity and sustainability. Deer and stock can have a major impact on both the biodiversity value of woodlands and on their sustainable management. Our research improves the guidance we provide to woodland managers on achieving the desired impact.


Projects falling under this programme heading have been underway for many years but were brought together under this programme heading in April 2005. The programme is reviewed every five years.


Dr Robin Gill