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Supply chain - Sustainable management

This section is if you are considering managing your own, or other people’s woodland within your locality.

Our woodlands have always been managed for a wide range of woodlands products, from firewood to fungi. However, in recent years there has been a marked decline in the management of woodlands as timber markets dipped. Today, approximately half of the UK’s woodlands are undermanaged or unmanaged. This has led to a decrease in woodland biodiversity and a disconnect between people and woodlands as productive resources.

Timber stacks.Well-managed woodlands bring a host of benefits, including improvements in biodiversity, providing additional employment opportunities, supporting a woodland’s provision of natural or ecosystem services, such as protection against flooding or carbon storage and in some instances opening up woodlands for people to share and enjoy.



The government’s Strategy for England (2006) identified the potential to bring an additional 2 million tonnes of wood to market annually by 2020. Under-managed woodlands were identified as the principle source of this additional woodfuel.

Woodfuel presents an opportunity to help make woodland management financially viable for many woodland owners, with demand from log stoves and wood-fuelled boilers offering a long-term business opportunity. Woodfuel production should, however, be viewed in the context of overall woodland productivity; woodfuel is just one of a range of products that are available from woodlands. These products range from quality high-grade timber for furniture to coppice materials for woodland crafts such as hedge laying. Ensure that you use only low quality timber and thinnings for woodfuel and try to find alternative markets for higher grade timber (e.g. a local sawmill or wood using business).

If you are planning to supply woodfuel to biomass boilers registered with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), you will need to make sure all woodfuel sustainability requirements are met from woodland management through to supply.

What do you need to know about your woodland?

If you have decided that one of your objectives as a group is to manage woodlands, you need to know the following things to get started:


Who owns the woodland? Do you have contact details, rights to management and to apply for grants? Contracts may need to be drawn up between your group and the woodland owner to give you access and rights to harvest wood from the site, if you do not own the woodland being managed.


The closer your woodland is to your processing site and biomass heating system, the lower your transport costs and associated carbon emissions will be.

Species characteristics

What types of trees are in the woodland? For example, are they softwoods or hardwoods, mature or newly planted?

See our ‘Wood as Fuel' supplement and So you own a woodland for more information.

Site characteristics

What is the topography of the woodland? If there are features such as bodies of water or steep sides, this may impact on your selection of management and timber extraction equipment.


Work out how big your woodland is by mapping it using the myForest free mapping tool.

Management status

Is the woodland already being actively managed? If so, is there a UKFS compliant management plan in place? If not, you will need to put one in place before removing any timber and in order for the fuel to be RHI compliant.

Access for management

Can the woodland be accessed for management activities? Many woodlands have no paths or vehicular access routes. You may need to install access routes in order to start managing the woodland.


Check whether your woodland falls under any designations using Defra’s Magic service. If the woodland is located within a designated area (e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest), this could impact on what activities you are able to undertake within your woodland. You should also check whether any of the trees are covered by a Tree Preservation Order or are in a Conservation Area. You can find this out from your local authority.

What managing woodland involves in practice

Understanding woodlands, assessing their likely potential and putting in place a strategy to achieve that potential in a sustainable way, forms the basis of sustainable woodland management. It is essential that any woodland management activity is planned carefully and that a UK Forestry Standard compliant plan is put in place.

Management plan

The management plan sets out a long-term vision for your woodland. It requires a resource assessment of your woodland’s physical characteristics which in turn will help the identification of opportunities and constraints. A work plan is developed for a five-year period, although the plan usually covers at least 20 years.

The Forestry Commission is the regulatory authority for forest practice in England – we are responsible for setting national standards of forest management, assignment of felling licenses and the provision of woodland grants to support sustainable woodland management practices.

The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) is the reference standard for sustainable forest management in the UK. The UKFS, supported by its series of Guidelines, outlines the context for forestry in the UK, sets out the approach of the UK governments to sustainable forest management, defines standards and requirements, and provides a basis for regulation and monitoring.

To demonstrate compliance with the UKFS, your management plan should be developed in line with our woodland management plan template. Using this template means you will be eligible to apply for a woodland planning grant if your woodland is over 3 hectares in size.

If someone in your group has woodland management experience, you may choose to write your own management plan. However, many groups will take on the services of a professional forester who will work with you to develop a vision and plan for the woodland. The professional body of foresters in the UK is the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Members of the institute must abide by its code of conduct, rules and ethics.

Licence to fell

If you intend to fell trees in your woodland, you are likely to need to apply for a felling licence. It is an offence to fell trees without a licence if an exemption does not apply.

Find out if you need a felling licence and how to apply for one

You can apply for a felling licence on its own or as part of a management plan submitted to the Forestry Commission.

Time requirements

Woodland management is a long-term commitment, with plans spanning 20 years. You need to be sure that within your group there is enough commitment to keep up with woodland management activities. If your heating scheme business model is based on you managing woodlands you need to make sure you have a secure implementation plan, funding and people power in place to achieve this into the long-term.


Site access must be available for machinery to get to the site and for the produce from harvesting to be transported away. If hard roading (a forest road or adequate track) is unavailable then a suitable track may have to be constructed.

In-wood access – the ground conditions in the wood may not be adequate to cope with all the machinery travel needed. In areas with heavy traffic it may be necessary to construct a hard track. Such requirements will depend upon the total area to be harvested, extraction distances, load sizes and volumes to be extracted.

Seasonal working

Timing is important. You will need to be willing to work outside during the winter months, when much woodland work, especially harvesting, takes place.

Protecting wildlife

Sustainable woodland management can have a positive impact on wildlife and levels of biodiversity, but great care still needs to be taken when planning and carrying out woodland management activities.

European Protected Species - advice guide

Equipment requirements

You will need to buy, lease or hire management equipment and have the skills to use it (or you will need to hire the services of a forestry professional). This could include using an axe through to large mechanised harvesting equipment.

Costs involved

Operational costs will include:

    • buying/leasing/hiring machinery and tools, replacements, spares and fuel


    • infrastructure – access paths and roads


    • woodland management features e.g. fencing, tree guards, trees for restocking
    • labour costs for outsourced work


Costs associated with woodland management

Extracting timber

Harvesting operations are carried out as part of productive woodland management. Opportunities to harvest will be based on the nature of the woodland (e.g. tree species and growth stage), the management status (e.g. neglected or active) and, if actively managed, silvicultural practices (e.g. clearfell rotation or continuous cover).

For small woods in particular, you need to identify the most appropriate harvesting system.

Forestry Commission Technical Note (Woodland Management – A Practical Guide, Chris Starr 2005. Crowood Press Ltd. ISBN 1861267894) provides guidance on the selection of appropriate systems for small-scale harvesting operations.

Wood will need to be harvested in line with the recommended sustainable yields outlined in your management plan. Removing more trees could result in degradation of the woodland.

For more information on harvesting systems see Small-scale systems for harvesting woodfuel products

Wood should be cut into uniform lengths of 2-5m long for seasoning.

Beyond felling

Woodland management is not just about managing and felling trees. A large number of activities need to be carried out to ensure that the woodland is managed sustainably. These include (but are not limited to) planting, weeding, pruning, thinning, ride management and habitat maintenance.

Using contractors

If you are managing a small woodland and working on coppicing or thinning smaller trees for kindling or logs production, you may be able to undertake much of the work yourselves. If you are managing a large woodland, unless you have machinery experience, it may be necessary to contract in a forestry professional to harvest your timber and set it to store.

Selling woodland products

If you are planning on producing more than just woodfuel, for example coppice products, the Small Woods Association has a Marketing Guide for Owners which provides a step by step guide to marketing your woodland products.


When a tree is harvested the resulting ‘green’ roundwood has a high moisture content.  To ensure that woodfuel provides enough energy it is necessary to season the wood, the process where the moisture content of the wood is lowered to an acceptable level. Seasoning is normally carried out by leaving the timber to dry out naturally, either in a light and airy space within the woodland, such as at ride-side or in a wood yard. This process can take up to one year for coniferous wood and two years for certain broadleaf species. Woodchip and logs should be at most 30% moisture content when used in a boiler or stove.

Storing timber

If you decide to leave the roundwood in the woodland to season, it should be stacked on top of supporting bearers (two parallel lengths of roundwood, set on the ground at 90 degrees to the main stack) in a sunny place, with the cut ends exposed to the prevailing wind and away from any overhanging branches that may drip onto the drying wood. Some kind of roof or waterproof or semi-permeable cover should be used to prevent re-wetting but one that leaves the ends exposed.

Transporting timber from the site

Timber is a heavy and bulky commodity to transport. The less distance that timber travels throughout the wood supply chain the lower the costs and associated carbon emissions will be. If you have a yard in the woodland, that’s great, it removes the need for a separate processing site. 

Transportation of timber (Timber Transport Forum) guidance on the transportation of timber.

Health & Safety

Consideration must be given to operator training, safe working practices and manual handling. Three main aspects need to be considered to create a safe working environment and optimal conditions for efficient work: 1. A well planned operation on a suitably organised worksite. 2. The use of appropriate and well-maintained equipment. 3. Employing well-trained operators familiar with the machines in use and the personal protective equipment (PPE) required. For specific machine-related information refer to the respective supplier, agent, manufacturer and the Arboriculture and Forestry Advisory Group (AFAG) guides.

Risk, liability and health & safety requirements

Prior to embarking on your woodland management activities you should conduct a thorough risk assessment based on the activities that will be taking place on your site/s. You will need to ensure you have the appropriate health and safety protocols and requirements in place. Much of the equipment involved needs specific training and some may be used under licence only. In addition, you will need to ensure you have the appropriate insurance cover to mitigate liability. 

Last updated: 10th February 2018
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