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Exploring forests and woodland
Britain’s forests and woodlands play an important role, benefiting both people and wildlife. Find out about the many things you can do in forests, discover a forest to visit near you and learn how to help protect them.
Why forests and woodlands matter
Trees and woodland contribute to everybody’s quality of life in Britain. As well as providing spaces for relaxation and fun, they:
- give a home to many animals and plants
- improve the quality and beauty of people’s surroundings
- stabilise the soil, generate oxygen and absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide
- supply wood for building, fuel and paper-making
Find a forest to visit near you
Visiting forests gives you a chance to take advantage of some of the most beautiful spots in Britain. You can go to see wildlife, enjoy the outdoors, and even learn a new skill.
The Forestry Commission is the largest manager of land in Britain, with 827,000 hectares of woods and forests. Use its ‘Places to go’ tool to search for forests by name or nearest town. You can also search by activity (for example, horse-riding, camping, fishing or events) or for certain facilities, like disabled access.
The Woodland Trust is a conservation charity with 1,000 woodland sites in the UK. Its ‘Search for a wood’ tool lets you find woods by name or location. You can choose woods that are especially beautiful in autumn or spring, have good views or are of special interest for their wildlife.
Royal Forestry Society
The Royal Forestry Society is a charity that works to make sure trees and woodlands are managed wisely. It runs three woodlands in the Chilterns, the National Forest and mid-Wales.
England’s community forests
There are eight community forests in England, located in and around large towns and cities. They aim to help people living in urban areas take advantage of their local green spaces.
Natural England lists local and national nature reserves on its website, many of which contain woodland.
Your local council
Local councils often publish lists of woods open to the public on their websites. They can also give advice on walks you can do in the countryside near you.
Ordnance Survey maps
Ordnance Survey (OS) maps show forests and woodlands as shaded green. They also show nature reserves (a blue duck symbol) and walks and trails (a blue footprint).
Activities you can do in forests
Forests and woodlands offer you the chance to take part in countless activities. Walking, cycling and fishing are all popular past-times and are easy to arrange yourself. See ‘Things to do in the countryside’ for more ideas.
You can also take part in many different arranged activities, some free and some paid for.
Forestry Commission events
The Forestry Commission runs numerous events suitable for all ages. These include bat walks, bushcraft lessons, family bike rides, star-watching, fêtes and duck races.
Woodland Trust events
The Woodland Trust regularly holds guided walks, talks, tree-planting and fundraising events.
Tree Council events
The Tree Council is a UK charity working to protect and promote trees. Each May, it organises ‘Walk in the woods’, a month-long festival of walks, talks and events to encourage people to enjoy woods in spring. It also runs National Tree Week every November, with events to help people plant around a million trees.
Wood fairs are events that celebrate woodland crafts and activities, from chainsaw sculpting to wood-carving, and from tree-planting to tree-climbing.
How you can help protect forests
There are many ways you can help forests stay healthy and vibrant.
Follow the Forest Code
The Forest Code gives guidance on keeping woodlands safe:
- guard against all risk of fire
- protect trees, plants and wildlife – for example, by sticking to paths so you don’t damage young seedlings
- leave things as you find them; take nothing away
- keep dogs under control
- avoid damaging buildings, fences, hedges, walls and signs
- don’t leave litter
'The Countryside Code' gives detailed advice on your responsibilities when you're spending time in the countryside.
Plant a tree
Trees provide food and shelter for many types of wildlife. You can help plant the trees and woodlands of the future:
- apply for a Tree Council grant to help your school or organisation plant trees
- take part in tree-planting as part of National Tree Week or Tree For All (a project to get children planting)
- if you have more land, a MOREwoods grant can help cover the cost of growing a small wood
The Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust provide advice on tree-planting and caring for young trees. You can find links to these organisations under ‘More useful links’ at the bottom of this page.
Volunteer for an organisation that protects forests
Many organisations and charities exist to help protect trees and forests, and appreciate volunteer help. You could try getting in touch with the Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts or BTCV using the website addresses listed under ‘More useful links’.
You could also become a volunteer tree warden for the Tree Council and help conserve your local trees and woods.
Who manages forests?
Forests and woods can be publicly owned, belong to charities like the Woodland Trust, or be privately owned. Not all woods are open to the public.
In Britain, the majority of forests and woods are managed by:
- the Forestry Commission
- local authorities
- the Woodland Trust
- county wildlife trusts
As well as managing woodlands, local authorities can issue tree preservation orders to protect certain trees. Find out more in ‘Tree management and preservation’.