Habitat Management Technical Fact Sheets from FWAG

Farm Woodland

Many farms have areas of woodland, which contribute greatly to the local wildlife and landscape. Small woods are not often managed productively as it usually requires specialist knowledge and equipment, meaning they are not economically viable ventures. As a result they are often neglected, however even a small management input could create important benefits for both the farm and wildlife.

Benefits of farm woodlands

Increase the wildlife potential of farm woodland by introducing simple management practices

Farm woodland can provide:

  • Ideal habitat for a wide range of plants, many of which are rare and not found elsewhere in Britain.
  • Support for a wide range of animals including mammals, invertebrates, moths, butterflies, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
  • A source of timber for sale or domestic use.
  • Habitat for game birds and enhanced sporting value of the farm.
  • Shelter for stock, game and crops.
  • Screening for buildings.
  • Attractive features on the landscape.
  • Superb recreational area.

Management advice to benefit wildlife

There are many ways that farm woodland can managed. Take specialist advice on how to best manage the wood to suit the local area, wildlife and your farming system. In general aim to create a variety of habitats within the wood to increase the biodiversity potential.

  • Link woodland habitats across the farm using wildlife corridors, such as hedgerows, ditches, tracks and beetle banks.
  • Create glades and rides within the woodland. Permanently sunlit glades stimulate the growth of meadow-type species, produce warm and sheltered conditions suited to butterflies, insects and game birds. Well-structured rides allow a gradation from low vegetation or bare ground in the centre, through tall grass and herb communities, to scrub and ultimately trees.
  • Use rotational mowing, preferably in the winter months, to control and manage the glades and rides.
  • Including shrubby areas within the woodland, along rides and edges, provides cover for pheasants in winter, part of their breeding territory in spring, and is used by visiting summer birds such as warblers.
  • Where safety permits, leave dead wood - standing or fallen. It provides habitat for many insects, fungi, lichens and micro-organisms.

Dead or decaying wood can support a range of oftenrare species

  • Non-native species such as rhododendron, laurel and sycamore, support considerably less species than most native types, grow very quickly, out-compete native species, and reduce the value of the woodland under-storey. Cutting and clearing of these species will often improve the structure and diversity of the wood.
  • Use buffer zones to protect woodland edges from pesticides and fertilisers. Where possible use extended field margins at woodland junctions.
  • Try to create a graded edge to the wood, with some scrubland and less dense habitat.
  • Fence off the wood from any stock. Although some stock inclusion may have certain benefits, in general stock will tend to reduce the wildlife potential of a wood.
  • Don’t remove ivy from the trees. It does little or no harm to healthy trees and provides an excellent source of nectar for insects – especially late season.

  • Consider coppicing the woodland – it can have many wildlife benefits. Once an area is first harvested, increased sunlight promotes the return of woodland ground flora (often still present in the seedbank), increased invertebrate populations (especially butterflies), and suitable habitat for nightingales, while hazel coppice attracts dormice.
  • Aim to have coppice at various stages of regrowth. This creates a diverse wood structure and benefits a wide variety of species.
  • Include some standard trees within the coppiced sections. This will help to slow the rate of coppice regrowth and maintain the ground flora for longer.

Coppiced woodland can provide a useful source of timber and many wildlife benefits

Creating new woodland

The decision to create a new farm wood has long-term implications. Seek advice from your local FWAG Adviser or the Forestry Commission before proceeding with a new woodland project. Factors to consider when proposing new planting include soil type, structure and suitability, planting density and design, species composition, protection from deer, rabbits and livestock, income from alternative uses of the land, possible markets for timber, and the availability of grant assistance.

The conservation value of the new woodland / tree planting areas can be greatly enhanced by following as many of the following points as possible:

  • Use a mixture of native trees and shrubs planted in groups of the same species to give a more coordinated effect.
  • Incorporate rides and glades for access and wildlife benefit
  • Plant shrub and small tree species along edges to give a graded effect and provide a warmer wood.
  • Creating a meandering edge to the woodland provides a greater wildlife benefit
  • Plant in parallel, gently curving, rows with the plants in adjacent rows staggered from one another.
  • Use protective rabbit guards or tree tubes to protect the establishing trees
  • Weeding, mulching and the replacement of dead trees will enhance the future value of the woodland

Relevant legislation

Further information

For further information including possible grant aid contact your local FWAG Adviser and visit the FWAG website at www.fwag.org.uk.

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in the information sheet. However, FWAG cannot accept liability for any errors or omission.
Photographs Chris Harvey
Author: FWAG
15.1 Jan 2004

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