Farm woodlands account for a significant proportion of woodland cover in the UK and are often one of the richest wildlife habitats on the farm.
Good management of woodland for wildlife involves considering the range of conditions they offer wildlife. This includes:
- Maintaining or creating a diverse structure to cater for the widest range of wildlife needs
- Retaining dead and decaying wood whether fallen or standing
- Retaining wet areas and features
- Using native species when replanting areas
- Buffering the woodland edge
- Ensuring connectivity within the woodland and with other wildlife habitats
Woodlands are home to more wildlife than any other habitat. The native woodland types vary across the UK but their value for wildlife is always high. Even small copses will have their part to play in supporting wildlife. With so much wildlife relying on our woodland in the UK it is not surprising to know that the needs of different species vary. If the woodland area is sufficiently large, then providing more structural and habitat variety will encourage the greatest range of wildlife.
Before deciding on the best way to support wildlife in your woodland, it is important to be aware of the species already likely to be in the area and relying on your woodland, so that their continuing needs are taken into account.
There are some key principles to diversify habitats for a range of wildlife that are beneficial in any woodland, such as providing standing or fallen dead and decaying wood which is critically important for wildlife but is often lacking, especially in shelterbelts and copses. Having a diverse age range of trees, including mature and over-mature trees, and having wet areas can add great value. To increase the wildlife value of woodland, try to ensure that it is connected to other wildlife habitats.
Create a diverse woodland structure
Where farm woodlands have a dense, even-aged stand, sensitively thin the trees in parts of the woodland to encourage regeneration of the ground flora and understorey. Dependant on the type of woodland, consider reinstating coppicing where this has ceased by cutting small areas on a rotation. It is important to be aware of the existing wildlife likely to be present in the area and take their needs into account. Deer browsing and grazing can simplify the understorey vegetation and prevent woodland regeneration therefore fencing may be required.
To protect species which are more sensitive to disturbance, ensure that there are refuges which are only given minimum management. Remember that some species, dormouse for example, have special protection - you must conduct proper checks for their presence. Where present, your management plans must avoid harming them or their habitat. If in doubt seek advice from a specialist.
Leave 10 - 20% of tree cover to develop into mature trees, either to follow on from the current mature and over-mature trees present, or to plan future provision of this important resource for wildlife.
Selective thinning of trees along the woodland edge will encourage the shrub layer to develop a dense layer to retain shelter and humidity inside the wood, and will also provide nesting and feeding areas for wildlife. It is important to retain tree root systems, root holes, and rotted tree stumps as these are often used by amphibians, reptiles and dormice as hibernation areas.
Rides and glades can be managed to form a graduated edge from tall canopy woodland, through thick scrub and grassland. Rides running on an east-west line are best for wildlife, creating sheltered, sunny conditions. A wavy ride edge will produce much more beneficial results for wildlife. Widen in places by creating a series of scallops alternating between the ride edges. Avoid wide rides causing fragmentation for some species by retaining occasional trees and shrubs within the herb zone and scallop. Mow rough grassland in alternate years and manage open areas annually.
Retain dead and decaying wood
Retain old and damaged trees as deadwood will develop even if the trees remain healthy, and trees with damage or rot are vital for a range of wildlife including roosting bats. Leave fallen trees and branches wherever possible, or where it is necessary to keep a clearway consider stacking it on site. Standing deadwood has great value for wildlife and should be retained wherever possible. Retain dead wood in both the sun and shade as they will support different species.
Retain wet areas and features
Wet areas can support a wide range of insects, so avoid management that will lower the water table. Naturally high proportions of deadwood are common in wet woodlands and should be encouraged. Avoid clearing natural debris from woodland pools and streams.
Use native species when replanting areas
It is always best to allow woodlands to naturally recolonise, but where replanting is necessary, restock with native species found in the local area, and use local sources wherever possible. Progressively remove non-native species and replace with local native species.
To reduce the risk of introducing tree pests and diseases, purchase trees that are UK and Irish Sourced and Grown Assured.
Enhance roosting and nesting opportunities
If you know of a tree that has a bat roost (legally protected), mark it to prevent it being damaged, disturbed or destroyed by future management. If your woodland has few trees that would offer roosting or nesting opportunities for bats or birds, supplement these by providing boxes for that purpose.
Buffer the woodland edge
The interface between different habitats, such as woodland and grassland are especially important for some species including reptiles, due to the diversity of vegetation structure present. Create 6m buffer strips around the woodland edge, and encourage a graduated edge of scrub, rough grassland, tall herb and short grass to develop. Maintain rotationally by occasional cutting to maintain structure that benefits a wider range of wildlife. Try not to compact the soil, in order to retain loose soil needed for some invertebrates and slow-worms to burrow.
Ensure that in managing your woodland you don't fragment it. This would diminish its value for less-mobile wildlife that avoids open areas. Try to ensure that your woodland connects to hedgerows, wildlife field margins and buffer strips or other natural features that wildlife can use as corridors to link to other habitat patches.
The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit provides advice on managing woodlands for wildlife, in particular rare and declining species that are dependent on woodland habitats:
The Woodland Trust has information available on:
Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms
Planning woodland and tree management on an arable farm
RSPB Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire; 181 ha arable farm Aims RSPB Hope Farm seeks to restore biodiversity, whilst maintaining productivity and profitability. As part of this, the RSPB is seeking nature-positive ways of minimising greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to and mitigating climate change. Trees and shrubs can lock up carbon and the aim here is to…Read More
New research: What limits bumblebee populations on farmland?
Authors: Dr Tom Timberlake and Prof Jane Memmott A new study by Tom Timberlake and colleagues at the University of Bristol shows how important late summer flowers and rural gardens can be for supporting bumblebees on UK farmland. Does this offer an opportunity to devise more targeted agri-environment schemes for pollinators? Pollen and nectar are…Read More