Woodland Management

Woodland Creation

There are many other benefits of planting new woodland – here are just some of them:

Benefits for People – new woodland can:
Provide a place for exercise, relaxation and enjoyment and thus help our health and well-being.
Provide an educational place for children to learn about the natural world.
Enhance the scenic quality of the landscape if planted sympathetically.

Become a future firewood resource for the owner which can help them in saving money with domestic heating costs. Be planted to sequester carbon from the atmosphere to help mitigate climate change.
Help in flood alleviation by decreasing water runoff; slowing down floodwaters; protecting river banks from erosion; protecting vulnerable soils from being washed into watercourses and; intercepting pesticide spray drift.

Benefits for Nature – new woodland can:
Create a new wildlife habitat for many native species.
Link existing woodlands together which helps wildlife to move through the landscape more easily.
Buffer existing woodlands against factors such as pollution.

Creating New Woodland on Exmoor.
There is approximately 13% woodland cover across Exmoor National Park which is slightly above the UK average of 12%. With 13% cover, it could be argued that there is enough woodland already on Exmoor, so why is any more needed?
Most of the woodland on Exmoor is located on land which has traditionally been too steep to farm such as the coastline and throughout some of the river valleys. But historically, woodland would have covered most of the landscape apart from some of the highest hills such as Dunkery Beacon. In fact, the UK has quite a low amount of woodland cover compared with other countries in Europe. For example, Finland has one of the highest amounts at 73%, Germany has 32% woodland cover and France has 29%. In England, there are some areas of the country which have more woodland cover than the national average of 13%, such as the Weald and the Chilterns which are around 20-25%, whereas some parts of eastern England have much less than 13% such as Lincolnshire which has 3.2% woodland cover.
Increasing the amount of woodland cover on Exmoor would help to raise the overall national level of woodland cover. A sensitively-designed woodland scheme will have other benefits such connecting up habitats, sequestering carbon and helping with flood management.

Where could woodland be planted on Exmoor?

There are some locations which are more suitable for planting new woodland than others on Exmoor. Woodland needs to be designed so that it complements the local landscape, such as following the contours of river valleys rather than going against them, or buffering and connecting existing woodlands for example. There is a lot of protected land on Exmoor such as open moorland or water meadows and woodland could potentially damage the existing nature conservation value if planted on these habitats. Some other sites have important archaeological remains which could be damaged if planted with woodland. On sites where there are no overriding concerns, there can often be a suitable case for woodland creation. Sometimes new woodland will bring benefits to the landscape as mentioned above, such as linking up other woodlands or slowing down flood waters in river valleys. Before any woodland creation scheme goes ahead, it will have to be considered carefully in order to take into account all the design factors and the situation in the local landscape.

More information
Grants for establishing new woodland have been available through the Forestry Commission's England Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) but these stopped in 2013 in readiness for new woodland grants in 2015. Please see the Forestry Commission's webpages for more updates on grant availability or contact Exmoor National Park Authority for further advice. You may also like to view some of the woodland creation case studies on this website to help inspire you.

Thinning a woodland

What is thinning?
Thinning is a woodland management practice where a proportion of trees are removed from the woodland in order to let the remaining trees grow to maturity. In effect, the trees which are left in the woodland after thinning are responding to an increase in available light levels and space and consequently put on more girth and extend their canopy area. This type of process would happen naturally in a woodland where trees succumb to old age or wind blow and the surrounding trees take their place in the lighter gap formed in the woodland canopy.

Why thin?
A woodland is naturally self-perpetuating and it is termed the climax community in the UK – given a long enough time and the absence of controlling factors like browsing by animals or some intervention by people, almost all habitats would eventually become woodland and remain woodland. A woodland does not have to be thinned because the woodland will continue to grow and develop regardless, but thinning a woodland will help to promote trees for final timber markets within a human lifespan and can produce other benefits for the health of the woodland too.
A woodland often reaches a state called canopy closure whereby each of the tree's top branches are almost touching its neighbours. This results in very little light reaching the woodland floor and hence trees and other vegetation beneath the canopy struggle to grow and can be held back in growing any further for many years until there is a breach in the canopy.  Thinning can help by breaking up the canopy, allowing in more light and releasing the remaining trees so that they can thrive.

Thinning in Practice

Whether a woodland is thinned or not depends on the woodland owner's objectives in managing their woodland and whether they are managing for particular end timber uses. If the owner decides to intervene by thinning their woodland, they will need to balance the costs of felling and extracting the thinned timber against the longer term benefits that this work will have on their end crop.
Thinning will stimulate the remaining trees to grow faster and to put on more girth. By carrying out thinning it is easier to plan for crops of timber at certain times in the future because the trees will respond in a known way. The woodland will still need to be managed however for issues like pests and diseases to ensure that the quality of the timber is still high when it is finally felled.
Generally, thinning is seen as a very beneficial woodland management practice for nature too. The UK's woodlands have been managed for hundreds of years and much of our wildlife is used to a cycle of intervention which produces an increase in light levels, air flow and space as some trees are removed from the woodland.
Wildlife will flourish in lighter woodlands rather than darker, colder ones because high light levels such as along woodland rides and within glades, will promote more flowering plants and therefore pollinating insects, birdlife and other wildlife species. However, if a woodland is opened up too much, the site could become too windy for some insects and the stronger light levels could promote a lot of fast growing vegetation like brambles which could, in the short term at least, shade out other woodland flora.

Different types of thinning
Selective thin – this is where specific trees are removed from the woodland.
Line thin – this is usually carried out in plantations in order to remove rows of trees. The lines are often used as "racks" or tracks for future timber extraction.
Continuous Cover Forestry – this is a system whereby trees are selectively felled during the life of the woodland but in a sensitive way to ensure that the woodland contains a mixture of young and old trees and remains looking as natural as possible with no clear felled areas.

Thinning Operations in the National Park
Many woodland owners in Exmoor carry out regular thinning in their woodlands, in order to promote a final timber crop. Much of the thinned wood can be sold as fuelwood for which there is buoyant market, or sometimes sold to sawmills for products like fencing material. Exmoor National Park Authority carry out thinning in some of their woodlands such as Hawkcombe and the Barle Valley woodlands.

Further Information
All potential thinning work will require a Felling Licence from the Forestry Commission before the work can go ahead. The link to the Forestry Commission's website will bring you to the Felling Licence page.

Rhododendron Management in Woodlands

Rhododendron ponticum is a non-native shrub which, when introduced into woodlands, unfortunately spreads very quickly forming a dense layer which can often smother native trees and woodland vegetation. This can not only affect the ecology of woodlands but can make accessing woodlands for woodland management very difficult. Rhododendron is also recognised as a host for the larch-killing disease,Phytophthora ramorum, which has been a huge problem for woodland managers in the south west of England.

Understandably, many woodland managers have been keen to try and eradicate rhododendron from their woodlands to improve access and help their woodland to remain healthy. Usually, the rhododendron is managed by firstly cutting the plants and then treating the stumps and foliage with a suitable herbicide. Because rhododendron is very vigorous, it can often resprout from stumps and so will require a second dose of herbicide. Even then, small rhododendron seedlings can arise in woodlands and if left unchecked, will grow back into mature bushes over time. The rhododendron management can be very expensive work to carry out because the rhododendron often covers a large area and can be growing on steeply-sloping valley or coastal woodland sites on Exmoor.

Fortunately, there are some grants available for woodland owners such as the Forestry Commission's Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG)which have helped to generate a progressive reduction of rhododendron across Exmoor. Some of the success stories of woodlands being cleared of rhododendron are featured on this page.

There is more information available about the origins of rhododendron, the problems it causes in woodlands and how it has been successfully tackled on Exmoor.