Wilder Woodlands

Sunlight coming through the trees at Goblin Combe

(c) George Cook

Managing Natural Landscapes

Woodland regeneration in North Somerset

Avon Wildlife Trust has embarked on an 18-month woodland regeneration project in North Somerset including Goblin Combe Nature Reserve and surrounding areas. Funded by the Natural England Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant Scheme, we will be improving the habitat and increasing biodiversity across the landscape, especially for species such as lesser and greater horseshoe bats, barbastelle bats and dormice. The Wilder Woodlands project aims to create a healthier ecosystem across the North Somerset landscape, transforming the old plantation into a woodland that will be inspirational, full of light and life, birdsong, and a place for all people and wildlife to enjoy.

Woodlands at Goblin Combe

(c) George Cook

Plantation Woodland

Historically, the woodland at Goblin Combe was created as a ‘tree crop’ for timber. The trees in this plantation woodland were planted very close together to ensure maximum timber production. This forces the trees to grow straight up due to the tight spacing, competition and lack of light. Although good for producing straight timber, this dense woodland is not good for wildlife and biodiversity. The lack of light on the forest floor means no understorey develops beneath the tree canopy. Without this, there is less shelter and food for many species of invertebrate, bird and mammals. The uniform straight trees, all of the same age, don’t provide the cracks, nooks and crannies for roosting bats or nesting birds. The plantation woodland is also poorer in tree diversity than a natural woodland, with only two species making up most of Goblin Combe wood including beech and larch.

Having been planted as a tree crop, this woodland at Goblin Combe was always meant to be harvested and the areas where harvesting was carried out on schedule are currently the most diverse and ecological interesting sections of the reserve. Being more open and receiving more light, the understorey, a layer of vegetation growing under the canopy of the trees within a woodland, was able to develop. Hazel and hawthorn trees and a mix of other ground flora species moved in and established themselves beneath the trees. This is what we aim to achieve across the site.

Woodland Regeneration

Here is what the team and volunteers have been working on as part of the project.

Taking a harvest

Through thinning out areas of the woodland that need it, the extra light and space will result in larger, more interesting trees that will lock in more carbon in their trunks and roots. All trees were surveyed before any felling and any trees that had potential roosting features for bats and wildlife were protected. The understorey will then develop, providing more structure, a new generation of trees and nesting opportunities for wildlife whilst vastly increasing food sources like fruits, nuts, and nectar. Lots of the felled wood will be left and stacked into piles providing more valuable habitats for wildlife.

Planting more tree diversity

We will plant more species of tree in the woodland, allowing it to be more resilient to disease. Woodlands with a small number of species are more threatened by outbreaks as we have seen with ash dieback across the country.

Creating more deadwood 

Dead wood is a brilliant food source for many species of insect and fungi whilst also providing shelter for lots of woodland wildlife. In addition to piling up felled branches into habitat piles, the team will also be intentionally damaging some trees that were going to be felled in order to create standing dead wood and providing cracks and cavities for wildlife such as bats roost in.

Bat boxes

Thanks to funders, donors, and members, in addition to the roosting sites created in standing deadwood we will also be installing more bat boxes throughout the woodland to provide additional safe spots for wildlife.

Bring in the bovine

The fallen leaves or ‘leaf litter’ on a forest floor can squash out competing plants and prevent the understorey from developing. For example, beech leaves don’t rot down for a couple of years. We will be bringing in a small number of cattle to help disturb the leaf litter and encourage diversity. The cows will also help maintain open areas in the woodland through their grazing, and the dung beetles that feed on them will be an excellent food source for the important local population of lesser and greater horseshoe bats.

Working at a landscape scale 

Wildlife cannot survive in small, isolated pockets. It needs to be able to move across the landscape in order to thrive. Therefore, another key aspect of the Wilder Woodlands project is to work on a large landscape scale. We will be working in partnership with neighbouring landowners to further improve and connect habitats.


We are excited about the Wilder Woodlands project and looking forward to seeing the impact it will have on the landscape as the dense plantation woodland is transformed into a diverse, dynamic, native woodland.

Staff surveying trees at Goblin Combe

Staff surveying trees at Goblin Combe     (c) George Cook 

Get involved

Keep an eye on our website and social media for project updates and information about how you could get involved.

"For decades, new trees have been planted in patterns that we don’t see in nature. We call this plantation planting, where trees have been planted like crops. These uniform woodlands – where trees grow too close together – don’t support a diverse range of wildlife. Smaller trees and shrubs support many woodland specialists – such as the endangered marsh tit, which has declined by 80% since the 1960s – that rely on for food and shelter simply don’t grow where the canopy blocks out the light."
Bernie D'Arcy
Head of Nature Reserves, Avon Wildlife Trust
woodland treetops

Woodland homes for wildlife

Thanks to our members, supporters and donors, we are able to restore woodland homes for Avon’s wildlife at Goblin Combe and beyond. Through your membership, you are providing hope for a wilder future this spring. With sincere thanks from all at Avon Wildlife Trust!

With thanks to our funders

Wilder Woodlands is funded by the Natural England Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant Scheme