Skip to content

Why we're restoring wood pasture at Abinger Roughs

Beech tree in woodland at Alderley Edge, Cheshire, in May
Beech tree woodland | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris

We’re working on the wood pasture restoration at Abinger Roughs - one of the largest projects of its kind in habitat protection and improvement in south-east England. We’ll be undertaking various works to create the wood pasture which will ultimately increase the biodiversity of the 34-hectare property and enable nature to thrive.

This project forms part of our ongoing Land, Outdoors and Nature programme. In 2017, the National Trust announced ambitious plans to create 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of new habitats by 2025, to reverse species loss and the effects of climate change across the UK. Abinger Roughs was selected as part of this plan.

What is wood pasture?

Wood pasture is a traditional aspect of the English landscape. In the past, animals grazed it, while timber and wood were harvested for buildings, tools, fences, furniture, and firewood. Today the country's best-surviving wood pasture is mostly found in medieval deer parks, royal hunting grounds and old wooded commons.

By their very nature, they create a rich and diverse environment for wildlife to thrive. They contain a mixture of older trees with lots of space around them, open ground, some scrub, and some hedges. Open veteran trees are especially attractive to insects, bats, and birds. Open ground and grassland encourage wildflowers and insects such as bees and butterflies.

Scrubland and hedges provide protection for birds and small mammals. Wood pasture is so special that it’s classified as a priority habitat under the Government’s UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP).

Why Abinger Roughs?

Abinger Roughs is a parcel of land that dates to ancient times and Domesday book records state it was woodland and pasture. The Roughs and surrounding fields contain burial mounds, pit dwellings, Roman villas and vineyards as well as Georgian and Victorian pathways, tree planting and shrubs.

Over the centuries Abinger Roughs has remained part of the historical tapestry of the area. In the 19th century it formed part of the Abinger Hall estate and was planted with specimen trees, plantations and rhododendrons to form open glades with interlinking paths. You can still see some of this wilderness garden today.

The National Trust took over the care of Abinger Roughs in the 1950s ensuring that it remains accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, the woodlands have become overgrown, causing dense shading under the canopy of trees, and reducing the woodland’s biodiversity.

Two black and white Belted Galloway cattle grazing in long grass on Denbies Hillside, Surrey
Belted Galloway cattle grazing on nearby Denbies Hillside | © National Trust Images / Rob Hewer

What’s happening?

There are a few stages to this project:

  • Re-fence the entire perimeter of Abinger Roughs and install a central division. This will involve clearing trees and scrub to create a route for contractors to install the new fence line. Thin the woodland to allow more light in and promote ground flora/different species to flourish.
  • Reduce the amount of invasive, non-native rhododendron ponticum whilst retaining any specimen plantings.
  • ‘Halo release’ veteran trees giving them space to breathe and grow long branches.
  • The selective pollarding of trees by cutting back branches above grazing height to promote growth.
  • Introduce cattle grazing to help naturally maintain the pasture - cattle are excellent at seed dispersal and the sward height of vegetation is different in grazed grass and woodland, resulting in great benefits for wildlife.
  • Throughout the project a series of ecological and archaeological surveys will also be undertaken.

Will the work affect my visit to Abinger Roughs?

There will be no changes to any rights of way and the project will open more of Abinger Roughs for people to enjoy.

Once the work is completed, cattle grazing will be introduced to the Roughs which will help with the natural maintenance of the wood pasture. The perimeter fence with dividing line will allow one half of the Roughs to be grazed and other half free for visitors to enjoy. Grazing will alternate between each half and we will post information panels to inform visitors in which half the cattle are grazing.

We are hoping to graze Belted Galloway cattle. They’re very docile and gentle animals, and very hardy. Working with the grazier, we’ll carefully plan which compartments to graze and when. The cattle really will make all the difference to the project outcomes and we can’t wait to welcome them in 2022.

What will you do with the felled trees?

This process will produce a large amount of timber. The smaller trunks will be sold for biomass or used as wood fuel through National Trust offices in the Surrey Hills. The larger trunks will be milled and seasoned at Landbarn Farm where our carpentry team will use them to create a huge range of items and support the work of the Surrey Hills team.

Looking up at bare beech trees at Leigh Woods, Bristol


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

You might also be interested in

A Roe deer partly hidden by foliage, looking directly at the camera

Supporting wildlife at Abinger Roughs and Netley Park 

Find out some of the species you might spot, why the habitats are so important for nature conservation and why so many visiting or resident wildlife make their homes here.

A grassy clearing surrounded by trees

Things to see and do at Abinger Roughs and Netley Park   

The Roughs are a great place to run around and enjoy the great outdoors, with walking and cycling trails, a natural play area and lots of wildlife to spot. Take a look and find out what you could get up to on a day out here.

A view of Abinger Roughs and Netley Park, Surrey

The history of Abinger Roughs and Netley Park 

From fields and heathland to 18th-century gentleman’s estate and military barracks, the rich and interesting past here includes links to Charles Darwin and a famous author, plus a poignant legacy.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.