A new report provides “a real insight” into successfully establishing woodlands for the long term, according to its authors.

Carried out in partnership by the Diverse Regeneration Company, Timber Strategies, Devon County Council, and the Forestry Commission, the South West Forest Review is the study of a scheme that saw 3,000 ha of woodland planted across North Devon and Cornwall between 1997 and 2005.

The report outlines the many benefits of new woodlands, such as biodiversity, carbon storage and economic diversity on farms, but also highlights that good ongoing management and maintenance is required, otherwise these benefits can "fall by the wayside".

Jez Ralph, of Timber Strategies, who undertook the study, explained: “The 20-year stage of a woodland is critical to its future on-going growth and success. During our study across the 3000 hectares, we have seen woodlands with varying degrees of growth. Often owners were unaware of the importance of active management to ensure a thriving, biodiverse and resilient woodland. They were also unsure of how to deal with the large volumes of ash trees dying from the Chalara epidemic, now sweeping across the country.

“As a result of pests and diseases like Chalara or competition from weeds, many young woodlands we’ve seen are often patchy or even decimated. Newly planted woodlands should be long-term havens of biodiversity, a rich resource for local economies and an important store of carbon.

“The review raises important questions for policy makers on ensuring long-term management is provided, both through incentives and advice, so as to avoid these woodlands falling into disrepair and not fulfilling their biodiversity or income potential.   With many landowners thinking about planting woodlands to help towards the goal of meeting net zero targets, this report highlights that planting is only the first step and woodlands will only thrive and make a meaningful contribution if nurtured and well managed.”

The review also highlighted how diverse the owners’ views of their woodlands were. Some saw them as a resource for biodiversity, others for their own leisure use. Timber growing is important for some, but for others the woodland is seen as an asset for diversified income.

Liz Abell of The Diverse Regeneration Company added: “We have been working alongside Timber Strategies to implement this study, in order to truly understand the longer-term issues and successes of tree planting schemes, on both small and large-scale projects. This study will now give us a vital resource to draw from when advising businesses that might be looking to diversify, of the benefits of woodland planting and the longer-term implications.

“We and other forestry and public sector organisations need to encourage all woodland owners to work with experts to prepare a management plan for their woodlands which will not only meet their own objectives but will also ensure their woodlands are as healthy and resilient as possible for future generations.”

Read the full report here.

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