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Mature beech and oak trees. Mark ash ancient and monumental woodland. New Forest.

Managing ancient and native woodland in England

Ancient and native woodlands are one of our oldest land uses and most diverse ecosystems. It is extremely important that they are well managed now and for the future. These woodlands have often taken hundreds, if not thousands of years to develop, and in the case of ancient woodland are irreplaceable.

Over the years ancient and native woodlands have been an essential source of timber, fuel, coppice products, venison and other sustainable products. They are now increasingly being recognised and valued for the more subtle yet vital environmental services they provide, including flood alleviation, clean water supplies and carbon sequestration.

The Managing ancient and native woodland practice guide essentially brings all of the current good practice together in one document.

The Guide looks to the future, incorporating guidance on how to help woodlands adapt to climate change and the challenges it brings. It also includes guidance on harvesting woodfuel from native woodland in ways that will enhance biodiversity and heritage. Most importantly it introduces much greater flexibility, encouraging new and innovative approaches to woodland management.


This guidance was originally proposed to help implement ‘Keepers of Time’, the Defra / Forestry Commission policy on native and ancient woodland published in 2005. The original text has now been revised to take into account many years' experience of implementing the policy.

It has also been widened to include guidance on harvesting woodfuel from native woodland in ways that will enhance biodiversity and heritage.

Content and scope

The guidance is published alongside the handbook ‘Managing Native Broadleaved Woodland’, produced by Forest Research (Harmer, Kerr and Thompson), which provides more detail and underpinning evidence. It complements the forthcoming UK Forestry Guidelines by providing much more information on ancient and native woodland.

It will apply to all ancient woodland and all native woodland in England, which is over half our woodland area. It is particularly relevant to Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) felled due to Phytophthora, although supplementary guidance is being produced to cover additional factors in such situations. Indeed, it is likely to be implemented first on such sites.

The Practice Guide is a Forestry Commission publication, but one to which all the key stakeholders have contributed and shown support. It underpins both our grant scheme and the management of ancient woodland on the Forestry Commission estate. 

The guide includes the following information:

  • Woodland assessment & monitoring 
  • Management planning
  • Woodland structure
  • Tree species composition 
  • Restocking 
  • Open areas within woodland
  • Species management
  • Species conservation 
  • Recreational, educational & sporting uses

Relationship to other guidance

This Practice Guide sits within the overall framework of the UK Forestry Standard and associated UK Guideline - the strategic documents that set out how forestry in the UK will meet internationally agreed standards for sustainable forest management. 

Under this broader framework, this Practice Guide provides more detailed practical guidance for a particular situation: ancient and native woodland in England.  It does not attempt to include or repeat more general guidance on ‘good forestry’, which is covered by these and other Forestry Commission publications. Although some legal requirements are referred to, the vast majority of the guidance is ‘good forestry practice’ and mandatory elements have not been explicitly separated as in the UK Forestry Standard.

Where a woodland is certified under the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) then managers will still need to ensure they comply with the requirements of UKWAS. To assist in this, in Appendix 6 cross-references have been provided between the chapters in the Practice Guide and the relevant requirements in UKWAS.

The series of eight Practice Guides on The Management of Semi-natural Woodland provide more detailed background and explanation of the history and ecology of each type of woodland (Upland oak woods, Wet woodland, etc). They also give more specific recommendations on the management and silviculture that will be particularly appropriate for each specific type of native woodland. In contrast, this Practice Guide draws out the approaches and practices that should be common to all types of native woodland. 

This Practice Guide replaces the long-standing policy and practice framework set by the Broadleaves Policy and associated Management Guidelines produced in 1985.

For further information:

Last updated: 9th August 2016