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Five tips for getting started in your own woodlands

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About the author

 Julian Evans

Professor Julian Evans OBE FICFor

Julian is leading a one day course Essential Guide to Caring for Your Woods on 12 June 2019 at his own woodlands in Hampshire. More details on this and other Wise About Woods Training courses here

He is immediate Past President of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and presently chairs the Forestry Commission’s Expert Committee on Forest Science. However he has a keen interest in caring for and managing smaller woodlands as he has owned one himself of 30 acres for more than 30 years. He has written several books about his experiences as an owner including ‘Getting Started in Your Own Wood’ (Permanent Publications)

When buying or starting out with a new wood, don’t look at the trees!

We naturally think of the woodland itself as wonderful collections of trees, shrubs and flowers, but when making a purchase the first thing to look at is access. Can you get to your wood easily, does it front on to a public highway? ‘Yes' to both questions is a great start because it opens up options for how you can manage it.

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Red admiral and a peacock feeding in a woodland glade

So you can get to your wood, but can you access all parts?

Just as important as access to your wood is access within. Good tracks and rides enable all parts to be reached - and I’m not thinking of a lager advert! - and they help massively with both harvesting of timber and encouraging wildlife. Dark, uninviting woods are equally unattractive to contractors and conservationists. Good internal access is a win:win. Last week I was visiting a couple of small woods in Kent which illustrated just this point: well provisioned with tracks and well blessed with butterflies like comma, fritillary, blues, skippers, ringlets and browns.


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Tracks are a blessing at all times! 

History not geography is next!

A woodland’s past is crucial to good management in the present. It helps set priorities, it reveals its importance in the landscape, and it will often show what to do first now that you are its owner. All of us who own or care for woodlands are really just stewards or custodians for the time it is in our charge. We ‘inherit' a wood from our predecessors and will one day pass it on to someone else. As my old professor used to say, pass it on in better condition than when your received it.

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Old oak pollard with wild garlic (ramsons) in foreground

Beat the bounds

Now for some geography. Do try and walk the entire boundary both to get to know your neighbours, see any breaches or where rights of way occur, and to see if it is clearly demarcated. It is good practice to do this once a year, but the first time is the best time - with apologies to the Flintstones!


Silviculture can wait

For most of us it is how best to care for the trees that is uppermost, but if the above are in place, along with issues like felling licences, management plans, insurance, and risk assessments, then everything is ready. Trees can usually wait, and laying a good foundation before embarking (pun not intended) on planting, coppicing, thinning or felling or opening glades, providing new parking etc will be time well spent