A briefing document has been published by the Our Forests ginger group, setting the record straight about ancient woodlands in England.

Our Forests Ancient Woodlands briefing
Our Forests Ancient Woodlands briefing - click to download pdf

During the public outcry over the Government’s declared proposals to dispose of the public woods and forests managed by the Forestry Commission in England, particular concerns were raised about sites classed as Ancient Woodland; both those areas most closely meeting that definition and also the larger area in process of, or awaiting restoration. Some commentators raised concerns about the risks to these if sold on or managed by others than the Forestry Commission.  It was also implied that the Forestry Commission was ‘failing’ in its stated intention and duty to restore the larger body of Ancient Woodland damaged through earlier plantings, especially with conifers.

Our Forests believe that it may be helpful to ascertain the facts about the state of Ancient Woodland under the Forestry Commission’s current management, and to put these facts into the public domain to contribute to the ongoing debate about the future of England’s public woods and forests.

Key facts

  • The Forestry Commission was the first state forest service in the world to achieve the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) sustainability mark across all the public woods and forests it manages – in recognition of which WWF gave it a ‘Gift to the Earth’ award in 2001.
  • Only 16% of woodlands outside of the public forest estate (PFE) are managed to FSC standards.
  • The total area of woodland in England classed as Ancient Woodland is estimated at 220,000 hectares – of which the Forestry Commission manages 49,470 hectares. That places around 22% of all Ancient Woodland in England within the PFE and under the Forestry Commission’s management. So the majority of Ancient Woodland lies outside the PFE and is owned and managed by private individuals, institutions, conservation groups and local authorities.
  • Of the 49,470 ha of Ancient Woodland on the FC PFE in England, over 33,000 ha of Ancient Woodland have been or are in the process of being restored from Plantation Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) to native woodland.

Download the briefing document.  Other key documents can be found on the Our Forests resources page.

Gabriel Hemery


  1. I have been poring over the figures and the Keepers of Time policy document, trying to establish whether my challenge above is fair. If the 33,000 hectares represents all of the PAWS, and all of it is being restored, with the remainder being extant ancient woodland, then there is effectively a commitment to restore all PAWS, and I must withdraw my point.

    If so, I do not think this has been explicitly stated by government or FC in straightforward terms, such as:

    “All Planted Ancient Woodland Sites will be fully restored as quickly as appropriate. This process means that by 20xx we expect xx% to be composed of 80% site native tree species.”

    If it has not been so stated, perhaps the group could press for this?

    From a policy history point of view, it is fascinating to note that had FC never existed (or been abolished long ago), or these woodlands not fallen into its hands or under its grants; then, without management, they would probably have survived or regenerated themselves as native woodlands.

  2. May I “ginger a little?
    “FC England is making no effort whatever to restore a third of the at all Plantation Ancient Woodland sites in its care.”

    This appears to be an alternative “spin” (for that is what I suggest this briefing is in danger of being) of the “record” as presented?

    Are Tony Juniper and Jonathan Porritt happy with this situation?

    My own experience does not lead to me to such outright confidence that FE England and its staff is enthusiastically and assertively restoring the planted ancient woodlands in its care.

    [I hope someone will correct me if I have the figures wrong. From the Our Forests briefing: “Of the 49,470has of Ancient Woodland on the FC PFE in England, over 33,000 hectares of Ancient Woodland have been or are in the process of being restored from Plantation Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) to native woodland.”]

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