Managing our Chiltern woodlands

The landscape of the Chilterns Countryside contains several ancient woodlands, and protecting and managing these extraordinary environments is one of the most important conservation activities we undertake. Our woodlands are part of the wider woodland heritage of the Chiltern Hills, which contains the most extensive area of native beech woodland in England. This includes protected woodlands, such as those at Bradenham, which are international important, with an ancient heritage. In the Chilterns Countryside we always manage the woodland habitats to encourage the widest range of wildlife habitat.

If you hear the whizzing of a chainsaw in one of our woodlands, it is more than likely that we are thinning the woodland.  Thinning is the process of removing dangerous, less healthy or less desirable trees to make more room for the healthy trees.

Thinning woodland at Bradenham
Thinning woodland at Bradenham
Thinning woodland at Bradenham

As trees grow the crown takes up more space and the tree require more energy, water and nutrients.  Removal of part of the canopy also allows light to reach lower levels of the woodland and encourages more growth there. Selective thinning is carried out with careful planning and consideration, and it can be used to influence the dominant tree species and the make-up of the whole woodland. We use thinning when we want to encourage greater biodiversity in our woodland wildlife habitats.

Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) at Bradenham Beeches
Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon)
Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) at Bradenham Beeches

In addition to thinning the trees, we also manage the under-canopy. Holly, for example, is a fast growing woodland plant, which can choke out other woodland plants such as bluebells, box, coralroot bittercress, and a variety of orchids including the red helleborine. Volunteers and rangers regularly clear and burn excessive holly growth, but they always leave some behind as holly berries are a valuable winter food source for woodland birds.

Thinning the holly under-canopy in the Chilterns
Thinning the holly under-canopy in the Chilterns
Thinning the holly under-canopy in the Chilterns

Other woodland management practices

Coppicing is a sustainable method of using woodland to produce timber. It involves cutting a young tree back to ground level. Shoots will then regrow from that main stump (called the coppice stool). These shoots, once grown, can then be cut back to ground level to harvest the timber and the process repeated.

Coppicing woodland
Coppicing woodland
Coppicing woodland

Coppicing has been taking place at Low Scrubs near Coombe Hill for many centuries and The National Trust is continuing this regular cutting on a more sensitive scale.

Old coppiced woodland at Low Scrubs
Old coppiced woodland at Low Scrubs
Old coppiced woodland at Low Scrubs

You may have heard of a management technique called clear felling. This involves cutting down and removing every tree in an area. Clear felling may be a very economical way of harvesting timber but can have a devastating impact on woodland ecosystems. Clear felling can also damage the topsoil so the land will take far longer to recover and regrow. We do not undertake clear felling on our Chilterns Countryside sites and it would not be an appropriate way to manage our woodlands.

Low Scrubs in the spring
Low Scrubs in the spring
Low Scrubs in the spring

What can you do to help?

  • Join the National Trust to support our work on woodlands and other threatened habitats.
  • Get involved by volunteering with your local National Trust ranger team.
  • Buy sustainable beech wood charcoal or wood crafts from your local National Trust shop.
  • Tell others about the importance of our special woodlands. Why not share this page with your friends?
Path through bluebells at Bradenham

Discover bluebells in the Chilterns Countryside

There’s nothing more enchanting than stumbling across a vibrant carpet of woodland bluebells. There are many places in the Chiltern Hills where bluebells flourish and they are at their best between mid-April and late May.

Autumn at Low Scrubs

Chilterns Countryside’s autumn colours explained

Autumn in the Chilterns Countryside is when the woodlands and hedgerows reveal a magnificent kaleidoscope of colour. The National Trust sites in the Chilterns offer some of the best places in England to see the golden glow of autumn as it unfolds in all its glory.

Park Wood at Bradenham

Discover beech woodlands in the Chilterns Countryside

The landscape of the Chiltern Hills is surprisingly wooded, and those woodlands are dominated by beech trees. Many parts of the Chilterns have been covered with woodland for hundreds of years, and today the Chilterns are still one of the most wooded parts of England, with over one fifth of the land area covered by trees.

Bluebells in a woodland clearing

Watlington Hill - Greenfields and Saxon Roads

A 7-mile walk from Watlington Hill that explores chalk grassland and beech woodlands on the historic landscape of the Chilterns on the border between Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

Beacon Hill from Coombe Hill

'Exploring the Chiltern Escarpment': a walk between Coombe Hill and Whiteleaf Hill

This 10 mile walk offers a range of panoramic views across the Chiltern Escarpment and the Aylesbury Vale. See a range of historical and archaeological sites, as well as the pretty village of Ellesborough and the prime minister’s country retreat at Chequers. With several important ecological habitats, ranging from rare chalk grassland to archetypal Chiltern beech woodlands, you’ll also pass through the largest remaining area of natural box woodland in Britain.

Chequers from Coombe Hill

Coombe Hill and Chequers trail

This moderately energetic circular walk offers panoramic views across the Aylesbury Vale. You’ll see rare chalk grassland, beautiful woodlands, the pretty village of Ellesborough and the Prime Minister’s country retreat at Chequers. Feel the fascinating history of the Chiltern Hills, inhabited by people for thousands of years.