New Woodlands by Natural Regeneration
If we are serious about increasing the percentage woodland cover in Britain then we have to acknowledge that it cannot be done solely by planting tree by tree and protecting them individually with expensive plastic shelters.
The UK currently has 13% of woodland cover (Forestry Facts and Figures 2019). The government’s Committee for Climate Change has stated that forest cover should increase to 19% by 2050 to combat climate change. This would mean an extra 1.5 million hectares of woodland. Currently the government pays up to £6800 per hectare in grants for new woodland planting. Under conventional grant schemes the government would have to be prepared to pay over 10 billion pounds to British landowners. Not a vote winning tactic.
There has been much recent interest in allowing natural regeneration whereby land is left to revert back to woodland naturally with no active tree planting. When land is no longer cultivated, trees and shrubs naturally colonise the ground over the course of several years. More recently this has been called rewilding, but it has been happening for centuries as the fortunes of arable farming have waxed and waned.
The type of shrubs that colonise uncultivated ground depends on several factors – available seed source, pressure from herbivores, the soil type and the condition of the land when it was allowed to revert. It is difficult to predict which species will grow but generally shrubs such as willows and thorns are the first to establish.
The open scrub habitat that develops in the early years is ideal for wildlife, and birds in particular, but over time it will develop into dense scrub with little light penetrating to the ground. Its wildlife value will decrease as it does under any monoculture unless some type of management such as tree felling or the introduction of large herbivores is undertaken. Trees may eventually establish themselves after many years but it is unlikely that they will ever have any significant commercial value.
What is needed is a cheap and effective way to enrich uncultivated lands with trees that can be steadily contributing to the country’s timber resources and at the same time increasing the wildlife and landscape value of the developing woodland. I have outlined a plan for enriching natural regeneration here .