Natural regeneration is the best way of creating a new woodland for wildlife and expanding ancient semi natural woodland. Not only is it less expensive than planting up sites, but trees established by regeneration are more likely to be better adapted to local conditions and will result in a more natural composition suited to a variety of wildlife.
The pressures on ancient woodland from farming and development mean that natural regeneration adjacent to ancient semi-natural woodland can help to preserve the historic characteristics of the trees and plants. However, as with all wildlife management, it is vital that such schemes are carried out in the right place.
What is natural regeneration of woodland?
Natural regeneration occurs when trees develop naturally from seeds that have fallen from a nearby woodland. New trees can also be produced next to existing woodland by suckering or layering. Tree seeds are moved into a new area by gravity, wind, mammals and birds. The spread of natural regeneration is dependent on the method of dispersal, the speed of growth of the species of tree and the distance from existing woodland. For instance cherry seeds are spread by birds, mammals and gravity so can potentially be transported far. Ash tree seeds, however are dispersed by wind so would only grow less than 100 metres from existing trees.
Why is natural regeneration good for wildlife?
Natural regeneration is good for wildlife owing to both the increase in size of the woods and the suitability of the woodland created. Trees that have become established in this way are therefore better adapted to local conditions and have a better chance of survival and longevity. This gives the woodland a natural composition with mixed ages, mixed tree species and mixed ground flora and shrubs. Natural regeneration preserves local genetic stock and hence local variations of plants. Where the adjacent woodland is a good habitat for a particular rare species such as dormice, the regenerating woodland will have a similar structure and also be suitable for rare species. For natural regeneration of woodland to be successful there needs to be a good adjacent source of seed. The young trees need protection from browsing by deer or rabbits and a sparse ground vegetation.
What is native woodland?
Native woodlands are those where the majority of trees and shrubs are native to the site. They are important habitats for many of our native species of plants and animals and they also have a high cultural and landscape value. This is especially true of ancient semi-natural woodlands that have existed in this state for several centuries or more, and are the most natural woodland we have. Natural regeneration adjacent to ancient semi-natural woodland helps to preserve the historic characteristics of the adjacent trees and plants.
Where to create new woodlands
New woodlands should not be created on an area already good for wildlife. A wildflower meadow, for example may already be of high wildlife value, so make sure you're not losing really important habitat to create something that is less valuable. As ancient semi-natural woodlands are declining, natural regeneration should be used to expand them where possible.