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Woodland Design for Biodiversity



The majority of new woodland should be made up of native species but can include a proportion of non-native or advancing/honorary species:

  • up to 20% of the species mix can be non-native.


Protecting, connecting and expanding existing native woodland by planting in close proximity will receive points through the scoring process. The FC will review the location of your proposal and it’s proximity to other native or ancient woodlands.

It is recommended that the management handbook, ‘Managing Native Broadleaved woodland’ chapter 10 is used as the reference to the creation of native woodlands.

Other useful guidance can be found within the practice guide ‘Managing ancient and native woodland in England’.  

Why plant new broadleaved woodland with mainly native trees for biodiversity?

Why native species

Although many of the objectives of woodland creation can be met by planting non-native species, there are many reasons why new woodlands of native broadleaf trees may be better; these are mostly ecological and include: 

  • Aiding the survival and expansion of woodland species by increasing the amount and quality of suitable habitat.
  • Expanding, buffering and linking existing native woodlands to increase their potential to support viable populations of woodland species, and assist movement of species between woodlands, enabling colonisation and increasing the probability of gene flow.
  • Creating diversity within intensively managed landscapes, including edge habitat, less intensively managed areas of land and long-term structural diversity.
  • Improving diversity in extensive areas of semi natural habitat that are not intensively managed, e.g. unimproved upland pastures and moorland.
  • Diversifying land afforested using non-native conifers.
  • Improving the visual anaesthetic quality of the landscape.
  • Producing native hardwood timber.

However, it is not always necessary to use either native species or local genotypes and there may be good reasons for using a percentage of non-native species or genotypes. For example, sycamore and sweet chestnut are introduced species that are naturalised and widespread; they form important components of the cultural landscape in some parts of the country and many people regard them as perfectly acceptable species in new woodlands. In addition, as Britain's climate is expected to change, our purely native woodland might not always be the best option in some locations.

Species choice

The concept of selecting and mixing tree and shrub species that mimics the natural woodland community for a site type is a sensible approach. To achieve this it is essential that there is a careful match between the local environment and tree species selected. We would recommend that you use the Ecological Site Classification (ESC) electronic decision support tool. Here you will get an indication of the appropriate Native Vegetation Classification(NVC) for the site and associated woodland tree species. It is important to remember that the tools outputs are only as good as the input detail.

Forestry Commission bulletin FCBU112, ‘creating new native woodlands’, explains the different types of native woodland communities that occur in Great Britain. This publication can be ordered from Forestry Commissions Publications. Information on the details of the 8 individual NVC can be down loaded from Forestry Publications.

The species selected for creating new woodland based on the guidance for woodland NVC types through ESC must take into account the impact of pest and diseases and any plant health controls and guidance that are in force. Due to concerns over the spread of Chalara dieback of ash there is a total ban on the movement of both ash seed and ash trees for planting. Futher guidance including recommendations for alternative tree species.  Similarly with concerns over phytophthera disease in alder, planting large areas of this species for new Wet Woodland is not recommended, particularly close to water courses.

Planting design

 It is suggested that innovative tree planting patterns are used to create a combination of clumps and open space to introduce variation by changing the following characteristics:

  • Mixture of species within clumps; distribution and size of clumps;
  • spacing between trees within clumps;
  • spacing between trees and shrubs in adjacent clumps;
  • distance between clumps;
  • size and distribution of open areas.

The design of new native woodland should consider practical issues such as: how will the design be laid out on the ground, what are the implications for after-care of planted trees during the establishment phase?

FCIN15, ‘Creating Native Woodlands: Turning Ideas into Reality provides actual case studies

It is important to be aware that these 2 set of publications were first published in 1994. This was before the Forestry Commission made its recommendations on the genetic origins of tree seed to assist with adaptation to Climate Change.


Last updated: 10th February 2016