The Forest Cycle

Many plantations are established on either "bare ground" like grassland or "clear-felled" areas where most of the tree stand has been harvested. These open areas with short, spaced out vegetation and small trees offer a suite of ecological conditions ideal for open-ground species of plants and animals. They colonise and thrive in this early establishment stage.

But as the trees grow upwards and spread, conditions for wildlife there change. Their branches intermingle, light levels reaching the forest floor diminish and many ground plants die out at this thicket stage. Over time, the plantation stands are thinned, removing some of the trees to leave more space and light for the better trees or "stems" to grow and provide raw material for timber products.

The stand then enters the pole stage and after more thinnings opens up again towards the final crop stage when ground vegetation reappears.

The mature stand will then be felled when market conditions are optimum or income is needed.

Mature and Young Stands
© Forestry Commission

A Felling Licence is needed from the Forestry Commission before cutting down any substantial stand of trees. And a precondition is normally that the felled area or coupe must be replanted or regenerated afterwards.

So the whole forest cycle starts over again.

The full cycle from planting to felling is called a rotation. That may be less than 20 years for quick growing, improved poplars - to perhaps 40-60 years for conifers and cherries - to well over a century for slow-growing broadleaves like beech and oak.

Not many foresters live to see the seedlings they planted and nurtured grow to full maturity.