New collection of case-studies of woodland creation through natural colonisation

What can you expect by allowing trees to establish through natural processes?

How can landowners try something new, when little information is available? Stimulated by conversations among foresters, farmers, land agents and ecologists, researchers at CFSL have put together a number of case studies on woodland creation through natural colonisation to address this issue.

When creating woodland, land managers (such as farmers, foresters, estate owners and their land agents) usually plant trees, designing the planting scheme according to their local context, reasons for creating the woodland, planned uses, and desired species. However, allowing trees to establish through natural processes can create locally-adapted, resilient woodlands, of high biodiversity value1. When creating woodland through ‘natural colonisation’, seedlings germinate from local seed sources that arrive at the site naturally, some of which survive and develop into trees. A key difficulty for land managers is that the outcome of this process is not guaranteed: it is very difficult to predict the timeframe it takes to create a closed-canopy woodland, and the species which will colonise the area and survive2,3,4.

    Naturally colonised woodland. Image by Susannah Fleiss

    The TreE PlaNat (Treescape Expansion through Planting and Natural colonisation) project is examining how, where and for whom natural colonisation might be used to create new woodlands, including in combination with tree planting. As part of this project, researchers at the University of Edinburgh are facilitating a ‘Knowledge User Board’ of land managers, who provide feedback on the research directions and findings, and help guide the project to produce useful outputs for those working on the ground. Early in the project, the group highlighted the importance of having case studies to provide land managers with examples and basic knowledge to consider using natural colonisation to create woodland. In a collaborative effort with the Knowledge User Board, we created a collection of case studies and one-page summary factsheet, available through the Edinburgh Research Archive. For more information about the project, please see



    1. Forestry Commission (2021) Using natural colonisation for the creation of new woodland. Using natural colonisation for the creation of new woodland (
    2. Broughton, R.K., Bullock, J.M., George, C., Hill, R.A., Hinsley, S.A., Maziarz, M., Melin, M., Mountford, J.O., Sparks, T.H. and Pywell, R.F., 2021. Long-term woodland restoration on lowland farmland through passive rewilding. PloS one, 16(6), e0252466
    3. Broughton, R.K., Bullock, J.M., George, C., Gerard, F., Maziarz, M., Payne, W.E., Scholefield, P.A., Wade, D. and Pywell, R.F., 2022. Slow development of woodland vegetation and bird communities during 33 years of passive rewilding in open farmland. Plos one, 17(11), e0277545
    4. Bauld, J., Guy, M., Hughes, S., Forster, J. and Watts, K., 2023. Assessing the use of natural colonization to create new forests within temperate agriculturally dominated landscapes. Restoration Ecology, e14004

    About the Author

    Dr Susannah Fleiss is a post-doctoral research associate working with land managers and researchers to understand how, where and for whom natural colonisation can be best used to create woodland. Susannah completed her PhD at the University of York, on the land-use impacts of oil palm plantations, and lives on a small farm in Mid Wales.