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Woodland and Forestry

Woodlands and forests are very important to the character of the Durham landscape and particularly the valley landscapes of the Wear lowlands, the upland fringes and the dales. The Government's Strategy for England's Trees, Woods and Forests (DEFRA 2007) aims to:

  • provide, in England, a resource of trees, woods and forests in places where they can contribute most in terms of environmental, economic and social benefits now and for future generations
  • ensure that existing and newly planted tees, woods and forests are resilient to the impacts of climate change and also contribute to the way in which biodiversity and natural resources adjust to a changing climate
  • protect and enhance the environmental resources of water, soil, air, biodiversity and landscapes (both woodland and non-woodland), and the cultural and amenity values of trees and woodland
  • increase the contribution that trees, woods and forests make to the quality of life for those living in, working in or visiting England
  • improve the competitiveness of woodland businesses and promote the development of new or improved markets for sustainable woodland product and ecosystem services where this will deliver identifiable public benefits, nationally or locally, including the reduction of carbon emissions

The first Regional Forest Strategy (RFS) for the North East of England, Trees, Woodlands, Forests and People was published in 2005. Delivery plans for the strategy are produced annually.

If you would like further information on Woodland and Forestry in County Durham visit  the Landscape Assessment pages.

Issues and Objectives

 The Condition and Isolation of Ancient Semi-natural Woodlands

Most ancient woodlands in the county survive as isolated fragments. The physical and genetic isolation of woodland plants and animals has led to a decline in biodiversity and the ability of species to cope with forces like climate change. This has been compounded by changes in the agricultural landscapes around woodlands - particularly the decline in hedgerows and the improvement of grasslands - which have further reduced biodiversity and opportunities for migration. Many ancient woodlands have been heavily modified over the years by the planting of ornamental or commercial species. Many were clear felled and replanted with conifers in the mid 20th century. These Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) often contain relics of the flora and fauna of ancient woodland.


  • To encourage the mapping of ancient woodlands in the county and assessment of their condition.
  • To encourage the protection of ancient semi-natural woods - and particularly the adoption of policies in Local Development Frameworks which protect woodlands from the impacts of development.
  • To encourage positive and appropriate management of semi-natural woods.
  • To encourage the restoration of damaged or planted ancient woodlands.
  • To promote a strategic landscape-scale approach to the creation of new native woods, and encourage planting which extends, or improve links between, isolated woods.
  • To encourage the positive management or restoration of other important habitats within the wider 'forest habitat network' - and particularly hedges and species-rich grasslands.

Conserving and Managing Existing Woodlands

Some woodlands in the County, and particularly smaller broadleaved woodlands, receive little active management. Traditional management techniques like coppicing have generally been abandoned for some time. Where woods are grazed - particularly a problem with upland gill woods - there is little natural regeneration and the woodlands are in decline in their physical extent and their landscape and wildlife value.


  • To encourage the protection and conservation of the county's woodlands.
  • To encourage the appropriate management of woodlands to maximise their environmental value and ensure their long term viability and productivity
  • To promote understanding of the management requirements of the varied woodland types within the county.
  • To promote the adoption of woodland management plans and encourage greater participation in woodland grant aid schemes.
  • To adopt the Forestry Stewardship Council standard for the management of the Council's woodlands, and promote its wider adoption.
  • To support woodland initiatives such as the NORTHWOODS project.
  • To encourage and promote greater involvement of local communities in the management, planting and care of woodlands and trees in their neighbourhoods.

Forest Design

Some forests and plantations established in the 20th century were designed with little regard to landscape character, biodiversity, water quality or archaeological interests. Opportunities now exist to improve forest design through restructuring as timber crops reach felling age. The adoption of Forest Plans and Forest Design Plans can assist in this process.


  • To encourage the sensitive restructuring of plantations
  • To encourage an increase in the proportion of locally native broadleaved species in plantations.
  • To encourage the removal of trees or plantations from sites of ecological or archaeological importance damaged by recent planting.
  • To encourage improvements in the design of plantations and shelterbelts during restocking to improve their 'fit' with the surrounding landscape.

Supply and Utilisation of Woodland Products

The utilisation of locally grown timber in the county is limited in some degree by lack of demand and supply. There is a need to develop new markets for timber products, and particularly hardwoods, as a way of adding value to woodlands and so fostering better management. There is also a need to encourage the production of higher quality timber to meet market requirements. Forestry crops, residues and biomass crops are likely to have an increasing role to play in reducing greenhouse gases through their use in heating and energy generation schemes.


  • To encourage the development of new local markets for woodland produce including wood-fuels, woodland crafts and niche markets.
  • To encourage architects and specifiers to use a greater proportion of timber for construction and other purposes and source such timber from regional suppliers.
  • To encourage the increased use of wood fuels such as short rotation coppice and forest residues as a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Woodland Expansion

Woodland cover in the county is low (6%) in comparison with national average of 9%, the average for England of 7.5% and the average for the region of 12%. The landscape of parts of the county has been heavily affected by urban and industrial development or mineral extraction and would benefit from new woodland planting to strengthen its character and improve the setting of towns and villages. With ongoing pressures on farming incomes, forestry can have a role to play in diversifying the rural economy. The county contains substantial areas of lower grades of agricultural land and also of reclaimed or restored opencast land. Large areas in the west of the county have Less Favoured Area status. The whole of the county lies within either a Rural Productivity 'Lagging' Area or an Economic Regeneration Priority Area identified in the Forestry Commission's England Woodland Grant Scheme. Large areas of the county - including the North Pennines AONB and much of the West Durham Coalfield - lies within a Woodland Creation Initiative Area identified in the North East RFS.

The creation of new woodlands can provide many benefits including:

  • expanding timber and other woodland resources
  • enhancing the beauty of the countryside and contributing to the diversity and distinctiveness of rural and urban landscapes
  • creating and improving habitats for wildlife
    regulating the movement of water through river catchments, reducing soil erosion and the leaching of pollutants into surface and ground waters
  • helping to revitalise derelict and degraded land
    creating jobs and providing opportunities for economic diversification in rural areas
  • improving the quality of life, especially in and around towns and cities by creating opportunities for recreation, education and local community involvement
  • storing carbon


  • To promote a substantial increase in the County's woodland cover while ensuring that plans for woodland expansion are integrated with wider environmental, economic and social objectives.
  • To encourage the establishment of new woodlands and particularly:
    • new native woodlands to help reverse woodland losses and habitat fragmentation, strengthen landscape character and enhance biodiversity
    • new community woodlands in areas close to settlements to provide new opportunities for public access
    • new large multi-purpose woodlands in landscapes which can accommodate them and in particular those areas affected in the past by land reclamation, opencast working or agricultural intensification
    • new woodlands in the urban fringe improving the appearance of settlements and creating a setting for new development
    • new woodlands in the restoration of mineral workings or waste disposal sites, or in the reclamation of derelict land
    • new woodlands on land in public ownership including reclaimed land and industrial sites
    • new woodlands in the Great North Forest. A spatial strategy for new woodland planting

The landscapes of the county vary in their ability to accommodate new woodlands - either because of their existing wildlife value or historical interest, or the particular characteristics of the local landscape. The benefits of woodland creation are also likely to be greater in some areas, for example close to centres of population or in areas heavily affected by mineral working.

In some cases land might be sensitive to new planting for one reason while planting may be desirable there for another. For example an upland meadow on the dale floor may be sensitive because of its existing landscape and wildlife value, but it may lie within a potential corridor for connecting native woodland habitat. For this reason, the Woodland Strategy maps these two factors separately.


The sensitivity of any landscape to new woodland planting depends partly on the contribution that woodlands already make to its character. Landscapes in which woodlands are important components of character are generally less sensitive to new woodland planting than those where woodlands are absent or uncharacteristic.   Some landscapes where woodlands are sparse may be of lower sensitivity, and particularly if their openness is a product of recent forces like agricultural intensification or surface mineral working, or where wooded examples of the same landscape type can be found elsewhere. In some sensitive open landscapes there are local landscapes or landscape features which are less sensitive to woodland planting than their surroundings. For example the development of new native woodlands in moorland gills may enhance the character of the moorland landscape without compromising its general openness.

Sensitivity also depends greatly on the scale, type and location of new woodlands. Landscapes in which small woodlands are characteristic may not be sensitive to the development of similar woods but may be sensitive to the introduction of large woods. Sensitivity mapping can therefore only be carried out with a relatively broad brush.  Guidance on the design of new woodlands in the county's different landscapes can be found in the County Durham Landscape Guidelines.

The strategy identifies Highly Sensitive, Sensitive and Less Sensitive areas on the basis of the character of the local landscape type, and the presence of nature conservation and cultural heritage designations.

  • Highly Sensitive Areas are those where landscape, nature conservation or heritage value is particularly high, and likely to be threatened by significant changes in land use. The strategy for these areas should be to broadly maintain the current balance of land uses. New woodland planting should only take place in exceptional circumstances.
  • Sensitive Areas are those where the landscape has many valued characteristics but depends in part for its character on the presence of woodlands. New woodlands of an appropriate scale, type and location may strengthen landscape character and bring wider environmental benefits. The strategy for these areas should be to increase woodland cover where it can make a positive contribution to landscape character and biodiversity, and particularly in Priority Areas.
  • Less Sensitive Areas are those where new woodlands could generally be developed without adverse effects on landscape character or biodiversity provided that careful consideration was given to siting and design. The strategy for these areas should be to increase woodland cover, and particularly in Priority Areas.

View Interactive Woodland Sensitivity Map

Priority Areas

Priority areas for new woodland planting are those where the greatest public or environmental benefit might arise from new woodland creation. Four types of priority areas are mapped:

  • Native Woodland Priority Areas are areas close to (<500m) existing native woodlands where new planting may buffer or extend the woodland habitat. View the Woodland and Forestry map
  • Riparian Woodland Priority Areas are areas close to rivers and streams (<100m from major watercourses, <50m from minor watercourses) where new planting may control erosion and improve the quality of the river and river corridor habitat. View the Woodland and Forestry map
  • Community Woodland Priority Areas are areas close to where people live (<1000m from larger settlements, <500m from smaller settlements) where new planting may create opportunities for access and recreation.View the Woodland and Forestry map
  • Landscape Improvement Priority Areas are areas where the landscape is in poor condition (local landscapes with strategies of Enhance or Restore or Enhance) and where new woodland planting would enhance the character of the landscape. View the Woodland and Forestry map

View interactive  (or non-interactive Woodland Priority version ). This shows the priority areas for new woodland planting based on the  four woodland priority areas above.

Outside of priority areas there are other areas suitable for new woodland creation that have not been identified due to the more limited opportunities arising there for meeting wider social and environmental goals.

Further Information

  • The Strategy for England's Trees, Woods and Forests can be downloaded from DEFRA's website.
  • For information about the Woodland Grant Scheme visit the Forestry Commission's website.