Urban woodland can be defined as all the woodland within the boundary of a town or city, ranging from larger tree- and shrub-covered areas down to individual street trees. Peri-urban refers to woodland found on the fringes of towns and cities between urban and rural areas. In Scotland, for the purposes of the Woodlands In and Around Towns initiative, urban woodland was defined as woods contained by or intersecting a 1 km buffer around towns with populations of 2000 or more.

Peri-urban woodlands are often larger blocks managed traditionally for timber production, biodiversity, recreation and other diverse objectives. Parkland in towns and cities may contain relatively large areas of trees, but may also have many large specimen trees. Although these trees may be managed individually (as will street trees), they provide the same benefits for the urban environment.

Woodlands within the boundaries of towns and cities can provide valuable habitats for many species of plants and animals, and can be important in increasing urban biodiversity. Wildlife in urban woods must compete with high levels of amenity and recreational use, increased levels of pollution, and pressures from development.


The positive effects of managing urban woodland habitats are listed below.

  • Urban woodland can be important in creating links between scattered areas of wooded habitat in the wider landscape, helping to reduce forest fragmentation and increase connectivity, which may be important in allowing the movement of some plant and animal species between woodland blocks.
  • Establishment of semi-natural urban woodlands may contribute to UK Biodiversity Action Plan targets for particular habitat types, and may also provide habitat for some rare species of plants and animals.
  • Woodland habitats can give people the opportunity to interact with wildlife in a natural setting, both in an informal way, and in the promotion of more formal activities such as environmental education.
  • Urban woodland can be used to promote community involvement in the local area, from consultation through to active engagement in habitat and species management.

Practical considerations

A wealth of Forestry Commission and other publications give detailed practical information and advice on woodland establishment and management (see Resources). Two of the most important points to note when planning any urban woodland management are as follows.

Community involvement

Form an early stage, attempts should be made to engage the local community in working out the objectives for a piece of woodland (for example whether it is solely for biodiversity enhancement, or has wider objectives such as timber production) to maximise the benefits that the woodland can deliver to the community.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation should be incorporated into the management plan. It will not be possible to judge the success or failure of any management actions unless good information on outputs and outcomes is gathered from an early stage (including baseline data gathered before the project begins).

The Forestry Commission England and Wales offer guidance on the availability of grants for the establishment, maintenance and improvement of woodlands (the Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme was closed in 2006 and a new grants system is being introduced in 2008).

The main sources of information on the management of wildlife species and habitats in the UK are:

Forest Research has developed Habitats and Rare Priority Protected Species (HaRPPS), a database-driven decision-support system for managing rare and priority species and habitats. This system will contain ecological information about several bird species that can be found in urban environments.

As well as the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) have wide experience of managing woodlands for biodiversity and for many other objectives, and may be able to offer useful advice on woodland management.

Case studies

The Mersey Forest

The Mersey Forest is the largest of the 12 community forests, covering an area of 1204 km2. There are 12 partners in the Mersey Forest, mainly local councils.

Four million people live within the area of the Mersey Forest, which ranges from urban areas to farmland. Over 3750 hectares of habitat (including 2900 hectares of new woodland, also grassland, hedgerows and ponds) have been created since 1990, and around 10 million trees have been planted.

Community Forests Biodiversity Action Plan

Biodiversity enhancement is one of the main objectives of the Mersey Forest (along with several social end economic objectives). A Community Forest Biodiversity Action Plan has been developed as part of the Cheshire Region Biodiversity Action Plan, which sets out objectives and targets for the management of rare species and habitats designated as part of the national UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

The plan contains a series of actions, including:

  • Managing existing sites and creating new habitats to conserve and enhance biodiversity
  • Considering the implications of forest design for the spread of pests and diseases that may affect the area’s biodiversity
  • Encouraging research on the effects of natural woodland disturbance and successional processes, and the interaction between herbivores and woodland plant communities.

These actions are translated into management to conserve or enhance rare species and habitats such as the Bluebell Recovery Project, a 5-year plan in partnership with other local organisations to promote this locally rare plant.

The native bluebell is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and is the subject of many Local Biodiversity Action Plans. Several factors have led to declines in the abundance of native bluebells in recent years, including:

  • Loss of ancient woodland containing populations of native bluebells
  • Illegal theft of bulbs from wild populations
  • Hybridisation with non-native Spanish bluebells, which have moved from domestic gardens into wild populations.

The Bluebell Recovery Project is a long-term programme that has been running since 1995, and involves local people, community groups and schools. It is being delivered by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the Mersey Forest Partnership and aims to produce a sustainable supply of native bluebell bulbs from seed collected from local native bluebell sites, and to develop a programme of replacing bulbs and seeds back into woodlands. Seed is gathered annually (in July) from sites identified as having native bluebells, and sown into bulb fields and into trays in polytunnels to build up bulb stocks (it takes 6 years to produce a bulb from seed). Bulb chipping (cutting a bulb into segments or bulblets, which can produce flowers after 2 to 3 years) was carried out to increase bulb stocks. Bulbs are replanted back into woodlands across the area.

Targeted Ecological Linkages Project

Landscape ecology is the study of interactions (both geographical and over time) between the features of a landscape and the organisms that live in it. Set up in 2004 by Mersey Forest and the University of Manchester, and based on data from the southern part of the Borough of St Helens, the Targeted Ecological Linkages Project was designed to show how landscape ecology could be an effective planning tool for community forest management.

The Project uses landscape-level data to look at the best places to create areas of a particular habitat type. This is done to create optimum links between each patch of habitat, allowing plants and animals to colonise the new habitat areas. The first stage was successful, and the Project is now being applied to the whole of the Mersey Forest area.


Forest Research can provide information and advice on all aspects of urban woodland management in the following key areas:

  • Investigation and remediation of contaminated sites, soil and water resource management
  • Establishment, maintenance and management of trees
  • Species ecology, landscape ecology, biodiversity and habitat management
  • Pests, diseases and invasive species management
  • Social and economic aspects of woodland for the local community.

Further information

Forest Research Best Practice Guidance

A series of Best Practice Guidance Notes on a range of issues affecting the successful establishment of woodland on contaminated and brownfield land.

Other resources

Forestry Commission publications

Woodland Trust publications on woodland management, including the Urban Woodland Management series

BTCV practical management handbooks for various habitats, including Woodlands and The Urban Handbook.