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Thinning is an important tool in woodland management. It allows you to guide the species and form of trees that create a woodland, and will help to future-proof the landscape for generations.

Essentially thinning mimics the natural selection process that occurs if woodland is left untouched, where the number and density of trees would reduce as a woodland matures.

Care needs to be taken when thinning a woodland to minimise the damage to trees that are being retained.

When to thin

Thinning is normally undertaken every 5 to 10 years once a woodland is 15 to 30 years old. When to start and the frequency depends on a range of factors – the faster the growth rates the sooner and more often trees can be thinned.

Benefits of thinning

Tree thinning increases both the overall capital value as well as the regular income that can be obtained for timber from many woodlands. Make it work for your business by supporting your commercial objectives. Thinning and other types of active woodland management can support the transition to continuous cover forestry systems, while creating an opportunity to have a diversity of tree species providing added robustness against climate change, pests and diseases.

How to thin a woodland

Thinning illastration



The usual method of thinning involves deciding which trees are to be retained and then working to give them enough light and space to thrive. Normally this means removing those with less straight stems, with cracks or defects, tight and weak forks or the less vigorous and less healthy. The number of trees removed in each thinning ranges between 15% to 30% dependent on factors such as exposure to wind, species, soils and stocking levels. The trees to be removed are either pre-marked with a paint blaze, or alternatively foresters select trees as they work through the wood – both methods have advantages.

There are several different methods, from systematic line thinning where entire rows are removed, to more time intensive systems that focus on the trees left within the canopy. It is very important to ensure that regeneration and restocking can occur.

Managing woodlands

Woodland management is the long-term maintenance of your woodland that delivers your business and woodland management plan objectives. It can also unlock extra income. Your woodland is a valuable resource, so make it work for your business by:

  • Boosting income from sale of timber and woodfuel, game shoots or tourism
  • Enhancing the capital value of your estate
  • Access grants and expertise to help improve or create new woodland

Our woodland experts can help you manage your woodland, in your own way. Our support ranges from showing you how to access various grants to helping you produce an effective UK Forestry Standard compliant woodland management plan.
Felling also improves timber value and creates the diverse edge habitats for our rare and declining woodland species. Your local woodland officer can also help you apply for felling licences.


Biosecurity measures: Keep it clean

  • Think kit – scrape, brush or knock mud and debris from your footwear, clothing and equipment
  • Think transport – remove any build-up of mud and debris from vehicles and machinery before leaving any site
  • Think trees – source plants responsibly, monitor for signs of ill health and report suspect plants using our Tree Alert online form

Biosecurity advice - Keep it clean

Useful links

United Kingdom Forest Standard
European Protected Species
Felling Licence Application guidance
Managing deadwood in forests and woodlands
Information on pests and diseases
Climate change and forests

How can I get involved?

We and our partners are working hard to bring more woodland into active management and provide on-the-ground support and expert advice. For more information: 0300 067 4000 or

Last updated: 31st January 2018

What's of interest

Thinning often requires a Felling Licence from the Forestry Commission before you start work. 

Consider timing operations to avoid bird nesting season.

Harvesting woodlands plays a crucial role in creating new habitat for butterflies and birds. You can generate additional income through timber sales.