Soil changes under long-term woodland establishment


Long term, large scale woodland creation in a “natural” soil scienceexperiment such as the WrEN project provides a unique opportunity to study soil development and changes over large spatial and temporal scales. Identifying the properties and changes of soil is crucial for understanding woodland habitat development and identifying the major influences on aboveground biodiversity change.

Research objectives

The primary objective of this project is to identify soil development and changes over time under woodland land use. This will be achieved by investigating and comparing soil physical and chemical parameters under secondary woodland (a chronosequence of WrEN sites) against ancient semi-natural woodland and lowland arable agricultural sites (as control sites). Additionally, earthworm surveying will reveal the interactive effects of woodland habitat establishment on soil biological quality and above ground biodiversity.


This project began in September 2016 and fieldwork across 21 sites has now been completed. Analysis of soil and earthworm samples is now underway.


Dr Frank Ashwood
Dr Elena Vanguelova

Funders and partners

This research is being undertaken by Forest Research’s Soil Sustainability Group in collaboration with, and part-funded by, the Woodland Trust and the WrEN Project.

Forestry Commission policy

At the core of the Government's policy on sustainable forest management is the need to safeguard soil and water resources. Human actions, from local scale forest operations to international scale climate change and air pollution may compromise forest soil sustainability with consequential impacts on the freshwater environment. Poorly planned and managed forests can severely degrade soil and water resources, making forests more vulnerable to climate change. Good management, in contrast, seeks to maintain and enhance the natural protective functions of forests and the benefits they provide for society, including carbon sequestration, clean water and reduced flood risk. The overall objective of this programme is to evaluate through measuring, modelling and mapping the impacts of forests, woodlands and management practices on soil and water resources under a changing climate and changing pollutant emissions. It also aims to quantify the benefits of woodland creation for soil, water and flood management and evaluate the role of woodland in integrated catchment management. The findings will improve our understanding of the nature of these impacts and be used to help develop practices and guide future policy to secure the soil and water services that underpin the multiple benefits provided by forests.

Protecting soil and water resources