Step 5: Choose the right tree

Choosing the right tree species for your site will help it to thrive, look right, and provide a positive contribution to habitats. This section helps you to decide whether planting or natural regeneration would be better for your site, and – if you decide to plant – which species to select.

Planting or natural regeneration?

Allowing trees to naturally regenerate (or colonise) by encouraging natural succession is a great way to increase tree cover in the countryside, where it is appropriate and possible.

Where there is sufficient seed source in the soil and suitable site conditions, the benefits of natural regeneration and selection of trees best adapted to local circumstances include greater ecological complexity and diversity, increased resilience to climate change and disease, and avoiding the risk (with planting) of introducing new pests and diseases.

Natural regeneration also requires less management, less resources (no need for tree shelters, ties, containers or for growing trees and transporting them), and can be more cost effective than planting. For more, see Rewilding Britain’s Reforesting Britain’ report

If biodiversity is your key objective, you could consider natural regeneration rather than tree planting. Natural regeneration will be less appropriate for some urban schemes and productive woodland.

If your chosen site has poor seed stock sources (e.g. if it has been intensively farmed), direct seeding can be a good option to introduce seeds while encouraging natural establishment. Read more in the Creating new broadleaved woodland by direct seeding guide.

In reality, many schemes seeking naturalistic outcomes for biodiversity may include a mix of natural regeneration and some planting.

willow trees

a field

Left: Willow regenerating freely on the Knepp estate in a former arable field taken out of production around 15 years ago. Photo © Rob Wolton

Right: Regenerating area of the Knepp estate southern block where large herbivores are allowed to graze. Photo © Rob Wolton

Selecting tree and shrub species for planting

Select species that are appropriate for your site (including soils, situation, space available, context – for example, whether rural or urban) and the reasons you are planting.

In rural areas, native tree species thriving in nearby deciduous woodland will give you a good indication of native species appropriate to the location. Selecting a mix of species will support diversity and resilience.

You can also check the citations (descriptions) of nearby or similar designated woodland sites. This will help you to identify which species are most likely to be appropriate on your own site. Look out for references to unusual native species, such as Devon whitebeam or yew, which you can encourage through your own planting.

If soil is likely to be seasonally wet or water-logged ensure planted species will survive and thrive in these conditions, this is likely to be alder and willow. In coastal situations, select salt-tolerant species such as blackthorn and elm.

The following websites and tools may help you to identify suitable species for your site

Hedge-planting schemes

Overall Devon has over 33,000 miles of hedges, with over three-quarters of hedges thought to be of at least medieval origin (AD 1150 – 1450). The ‘Devon Bank’ typically consists of a large bank, with laid hedge shrubs on top and veteran hedge trees at wider intervals. Adjacent ditches and stone-facing of the bank were also common practices to aid drainage and provide support. Hedges in Devon are an important part of the distinctive character of the County.

The Devon Hedge Group provides advice on the creation and sustainable management of hedges, for example:

  • select trees and shrubs for new hedges that suit the intended functions of the hedge and the site conditions
  • plant a mix of at least 7 species to ensure resilience against climate change (exceptions are where beech and other single species hedges are highly distinctive to the landscape setting, such as in areas of Exmoor and the northern Blackdown Hills – these will require gapping up or replanting using the same species to maintain their integrity)
  • review information on Distinctive Hedges and mapping on the Devon County Council Environment Viewer for clues on what hedge species are likely to grow well locally, and areas of the county where hedges have distinctive construction (such as stone facing)

Step 6: Find further information and funding if needed

Step 4: Choose the right place – Devon Local Nature Partnership (