Lost Woods – There’s new value in bringing Ancient Woodlands back to life

10 March 2023

Ancient woodlands – our remnant native woodlands - are a rich source of biodiversity and carbon capture. But they are at risk of dying out. Overgrazing and the costs of fencing stand in the way of regeneration, but now, there’s a new incentive to restore these valuable natural assets which will benefit both landowners and the environment.

What are Ancient Woodlands and why are they so valuable?

Ancient woodlands are special and irreplaceable places supporting rich biodiversity and housing the history of our social and cultural relationships with woodlands and landscapes. They sustain ecological continuity and are a storehouse of carbon.

But despite their rich heritage and value, our ancient woodlands are under threat and we don’t have many left. Less than 2 percent of the original post-glacial woodlands remain in small, fragmented blocks across Scotland. According to the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland , 21,000 hectares of ancient woodland were lost in the 20 years to 2014, with almost 90 percent being on unenclosed land, mainly in the uplands. 

Once gone, they cannot truly be recreated. 

Oh deer!

In the uplands, their decline is largely due to overgrazing by herbivores, which prevents the natural ability of these ancient woodlands, or Lost Woods, to regenerate. As woodland cover declines, soils then degrade through climatic conditions 'washing out' the nutrients and increasing water logging. These soil changes further impact woodland recovery.

Fortunately, they have remarkable resilience, and leave a ‘shadow’ of their former selves marked out by seedlings that continue to strive despite heavy browsing pressure – some seedlings could be up to 10 years old yet only 10 cm high.

To regenerate these woods, we need to reduce the browsing pressure through herbivore exclusion – usually with fencing. However, this is often financially prohibitive, and whilst some government support exists such as the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme, it often only covers around half of the cost of fencing due to rising costs. Future Woodlands Scotland offer a fencing supplement to applicants as part of their Future Woodlands Fund and this helps alleviate the initial capital outlay.


A fresh incentive to regenerate Lost Woods

Thanks to work done over the last two years in conjunction with the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC), the UK's voluntary carbon standard, there is a new way to leverage investment finance to help restore and regenerate declining ancient woodlands.

Previously, only woodland creation projects were eligible for the WCC. But now, remnant sites that have less than 20 percent woodland cover remaining, along with evidence of browsed regeneration, are eligible for carbon credits in the same way as woodland creation projects.

This change provides land managers with a more financially viable route to unlock income streams from restoring and protecting Lost Woods whilst saving the remnants of our ecological inheritance from further decline.

This means that restoration of Lost Woods could replace income from commercial sport stalking activities over the same land. This would necessarily involve a transition of the traditional stalker and gamekeeper roles, but the skill sets they have are not only transferable, but essential, in managing landscapes for regeneration of nature.


Zulu Forest Sciences: Using technology to accelerate their revival

At Zulu Ecosystems, we’re committed to take action to resolve the plight of Lost Woods. Combining the latest science, econometric models and land data, with in-house land management and Lost Woods expertise, we support landowners to evaluate, finance and deliver Lost Woods regeneration projects at the landscape or estate level.

Zulu Ecosystems' approach to regenerating Lost Woods is low-input and a low-risk way of achieving maximum gains for climate and nature. Key benefits include: 

  • Reduced implementation costs: the trees are already established and will thrive once grazing pressure is reduced
  • Projects can be validated as soon as fencing is complete, so carbon revenues can be recognised earlier than with woodland creation schemes.
  • Strong natural capital outcomes and premium biodiversity benefits - that are even more attractive to corporate investors.


Contact us

To discover if your landholding has the potential for ancient woodland restoration or for more information, please contact Fiona Chalmers:

To read the original paper published in Reforesting Scotland Journal, click here.

_(1) In Scotland, Ancient Woodlands are sites that have been continually wooded since 1750 (1600 in England and Wales)
(2) The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS), Forestry Commission Scotland, 2014_
Photo credits: ©️ Fiona Chalmers

Written by
Fiona Chalmers
Woodland Consultant
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