Author Topic: An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens  (Read 110 times)

Marie Shallcross

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An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens
« on: February 03, 2019, 06:09:06 pm »
An Introduction to Woodland Habitats for Gardens
In the article “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” (which you can also find on Allandscapers) Woodland habitats was one of those wildlife gardening possibilities which were mentioned.
In this article, I am focusing on the woodland range of wildlife habitats for the smaller scale of an ‘average’ domestic garden. That is, as compared to a nature reserve or a smallholding. However, much of what I suggest would be also be possible to carry out on part of an allotment or a community garden.

The habitats and planting discussed occur in or are suitable for Great Britain and Ireland as this the climate and country I know best. Many of these comments and suggestions are also relevant for similar habitats in other temperate zones. What you should be aware of is that the flora and fauna may be slightly different when looking for native and naturalised species. Where necessary, refer to a local guide for your area.

Firstly, a recap on ‘wildlife habitats’, ‘your garden’ and ‘woodland habitats’.

Wildlife Habitats

There are four main types of wildlife habitats within the British Isles. They are: -

•   Woodland Habitats
•   Wetland Habitats
•   Grassland Habitats
•   Rockland Habitats
As we saw in “Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden” they each have subdivisions.

Your Garden

Private, or domestic, gardens in Britain currently (2019) cover a larger area than all the National Nature Reserves put together.

The size of domestic garden under consideration here is kept small on purpose. It makes it easier to imagine creating a woodland habitat in a garden. For larger gardens, consider a particular area which may be suitable.

An average sized suburban garden varies across the country, but I’m going to suggest a size to aid visualisation. This is less than a quarter of an acre, say about 25-foot wide by 90-foot long. Which is about the same size, although a different shape, to a doubles tennis court.

Urban, or city gardens, have specific issues, but much of this information is still relevant. Having created more than a few wildlife friendly city gardens over the years, do get in touch if you’d like me to help you with an urban woodland garden.

Woodland Habitats

There are four sub-sections to woodland habitats in temperate climates.
•   Natural or unmanaged woodland
•   Managed woodland
•   Woodland edge
•   Hedgerows

Naturally enough, trees feature strongly in a woodland habitat. Trees, including both individual specimens and small woodland are able to provide to a garden: -

•   an ornamental aesthetic – it looks pretty
•   a productive, edible element, for example, fruit trees
•   cooling shade for humans, pets, flora and fauna
•   an environment for wildlife to thrive in
•   a carbon sink, ie absorbing and retaining carbon from the atmosphere
•   a play opportunity for your children, for example, tree house

Woodland Habitats in Your Garden

Natural or Unmanaged Woodland

Natural woodland is also known as unmanaged as these are environments which are left largely untouched. The tree cover will generally be broad-leafed, deciduous in lowland Britain. Native conifers are likely to form a part of the species present in moorland and upland regions.

True natural woodland is a difficult one to reproduce. It’s more likely that you would find this type of woodland when you purchased the land. If you want to create this woodland, you’ll first need to do is check out the local woods. This is to ascertain the native species which are local to your area. Ideally, you would need to do this monthly over the course of a year to gain a full picture

For your own natural woodland habitat, you will need to be prepared for adverse comments. Some visitors will see mess, not nature.

You will need mature trees, a small copse or group. Preferably include an Oak tree, Quercus robur, which supports over 280 insect species, plus birds and other wildlife. Depending on your soil type, other good woodland trees for an unmanaged woodland could be Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Elder (Sambucus nigra) Holly (Ilex aquifolium).

Lower layers of vegetation need to be included. Shrubs, for example, Brambles (Rubus fruticosus). Also ground cover and native climbers such as Ivy (Hedera helix).

Leaf mould and dead wood (not neatly stacked!) should be left on the woodland floor. This provides a habitat for various insects, beetles and small mammals.

Ideally, you would avoid walking through your woodland too often as it might disturb some of the wildlife. This possibly makes it more a labour of love than an integral part of your garden.

Managed woodland

Managed woodland has been a part of rural life for hundreds of years. It is possible to see traces of previously managed woodland when you’re out walking in the country. Coppiced Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) are a common sight. You know they were managed in the past, as Beech naturally has a single trunk.

Coppicing is where trees are coppiced, ie pruned, near the base of their main trunk. This encourages new growth of multiple trunks and light to the woodland floor, enabling a wider selection of species to thrive. The coppiced wood is used for fencing, furniture, fuel.

It is a system which would work well as part of a small managed woodland in your garden. Choose trees which can be coppiced such as Hazel (Corylus avellane) Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Pussy Willow (Salix caprea). Also shrubs such as Dogwood (Cornus sibirica) to give you brightly coloured stems in winter.

Of course, you don’t have to coppice your managed woodland. Properly maintained, there are many trees which would be suitable.

You could even have just one tree. Seriously. If that’s all there’s room for, because you have a small garden or would like to include other wildlife habitats, then have a single tree. Plant lower levels of flowers and vegetation to create a small woodland. Try spring flowering bulbs and small perennial flowering woodland plants. For example -

•   Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non scripta)
•   Wood anemones (Anemone nemerosa)
•   Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
•   Violets, Viola oderata (scented sweet violet), Viola riviniana (dog violet).

These flowers are nearly all spring flowering, when the branches of the deciduous trees are bare of leaf. This allows the maximum light to reach the small plants.

Managed Woodland - Forest Gardening

Forest Gardening or agroforestry is a sustainable perennial system to grow food crops in a manner that mimics a deciduous forest.

If you wanted to grow your own fruit as well as having pretty flowers and providing a woodland habitat, it could be an option. An option that does require careful planning to work well but should be fairly low on maintenance requirements once established.

Woodland Edge

This style or type of woodland habitat is possible to accomplish even in tiny gardens. Consider the vertical spaces in your garden. Then think of -

•   Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) scented flowers May – July, red berries in the autumn
•   Dog Rose (Rosa canina) scented pink flowers in June - July
•   Clematis (Clematis vitalba) also known as travellers’ joy, fluffy seeds heads
•   Ivy, evergreen and bears shiny black berries over winter
•   Bramble, edible berries from mid-August

Woodland edge is an excellent choice of woodland habitat if you already have native deciduous trees in your garden. Planting an understorey of shrubs and small perennials will soon transform the space.

If you do not have existing trees, with careful planning you could add some in and make a garden feature with a difference. Have climbers on a wall or fence, a narrow bark path to walk along next to this with small trees on the other side of the path. There’s lots of scope for small and large gardens and spaces within gardens.


The last of our Woodland habitats in your garden. Again, it is a suitable style for nearly all sizes of garden.

An existing hedge may already offer the makings of a native hedgerow. What species is the hedge? Suitable native species include Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Yew (Taxus baccata), both common hedging plants.

Turning your current hedge into a habitat may be as simple as adding in a few more plants that are wildlife friendly. For example, Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and Dog rose.

Hedges can be boundaries around or partitions within your garden. Making a wildlife friendly hedge is easy. Depending on the eventual height, density of growth and whether you need it as a security barrier will affect your choice of plants.

You will need to maintain your hedge in a wildlife friendly manner. Remember: -
•   the nesting season
•   flowers for pollen
•   edible berries
•   seed heads
•   hibernating insects and mammals

A thought to finish on:
The woodland environment is a natural one for Great Britain and Ireland. Left uncultivated, the majority of the land would quickly revert to natural woodland.

Marie Shallcross
Plews Garden Design