Restoration of lowland plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS)

Planted line mixture of Norway spruce and oak about 35 years oldRestoration of PAWS is an important procedure for the overall improvement of woodland biodiversity and is currently of great interest to woodland managers.

PAWS are sites that have a long history of woodland cover: they are ancient semi-natural woodlands on which the original, “natural” woodland was cleared, and replaced by a plantation of either native or exotic species.

There are several factors driving the restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites. These include:

  • Habitat Action Plans
  • Certification under UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS)
  • The realisation that PAWS sites often retain features of the previous ‘natural’ woodland.
Areas in 1000’s of hectares of main species groups of trees on PAWS sites in Britain.
Data adapted from Pryor and Smith (2002)
Conifers Pines 39
Spruces 35
Larches 20
Douglas Fir 17
Others/Mixed 10
Total 121
Broadleaves Oak 19
Beech 15
Ash 11
Birch 12
Others/Mixed 20
Total 77


The aim of PAWS restoration is to retain remnant features of ancient semi-natural woodlands and restore the site to woodland comprising site native species.  This will not be easy on some sites and the current programme of research is investigating the changes that occur on site following different silvicultural treatments:

Conifers were established on many ancient semi-natural woodlands between 1950 and 1980: for most people these probably typify PAWS.  Plantations of several species of exotic conifers were established on a variety of site types and currently research is concentrating on woodlands where Corsican pine (Pinus nigra ssp. laricio) was established on clay soils.

Native species comprise approximately 30 to 40% of PAWS and those planted with beech (Fagus silvatica), which casts a dense shade, can have a severe effect on the growth of other native trees, shrubs and herbs that would normally grow on the site.  An experiment is investigating how to introduce more diversity into these beech plantations.

Publications and papers

  • Restoration of native woodland on ancient woodland sites PDFRestoration of native woodland on ancient woodland sites (PDF-1975K)
    Best practice advice to owners and managers on the restoration of native woodland on ancient woodland sites which have been planted with non-native species.
    Forestry Commission Practice Guide 14.
    Also available in hard-copy priced £9.00.
  • Restoration of lowland conifer PAWSRestoration of lowland conifer PAWS (PDF-1299K)
    Brief report of vegetation changes and seedling development that occurred following thinning in a Corsican pine PAWS.
  • Harmer, R. and Kiewitt, A. (2007). Restoration of PAWS – testing some of the advice, Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 101, 213 – 218.
  • Harmer, R. and Morgan, G. (2009). Storm damage and the conversion of conifer plantations to native broadleaved woodland. Forest Ecology and Management, 258, 879-886.
  • Harmer, R., Morgan, G. and Beauchamp, K. (2009). Report on survey of Western Hemlock PAWS (PDF-1136K). Forest Research report.

What's of interest

The area and composition of plantations on ancient woodland sites PDF
The area and composition of plantations on ancient woodland sites


Pryor, S.N. and Smith, S (2002). Published by the Woodland Trust.

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