What are Scotland's native woodlands?

Native tree species are those which arrived naturally in Scotland without direct human assistance as far as we can tell. Most of our native tree and shrub species colonised Scotland after the last Ice Age (which ended roughly 9,000 years ago), with seeds dispersed by wind, water, and animals.

Scotland's most common native trees and shrubs include Scots pine, birch (downy and silver), alder, oak (pedunculate and sessile), ash, hazel, willow (various species), rowan, aspen, wych elm, hawthorn, holly, juniper, elder and wild cherry. For a full list of species (both native and non-native) surveyed in the NWSS please see page 87 of the national report.

Forestry Commission Scotland has produced a series of educational native woodlands videos, presented by naturalist Nick Baker. The main video, 'Scotland's Native Woodlands', offers an excellent introduction to native woods and why they are special:

There are four additional videos that give more detail on each of the key native woodland habitat types:

Ancient woodland information

Native Woodland Survey of Scotland has surveyed all native woods and near-native woods currently present on ancient woodland sites, as well as all otherplanted woods on ancient woodland sites (PAWS).

Ancient woodlands usually have ahigh value for natural and cultural heritage because of their long history of continuous woodland cover. Ancient and semi-natural woods (i.e. those where the current stands appear to be naturally regenerated rather than planted) are the woodland category that generally has the highest biodiversity value.

Information on Ancient Woodland sites is available here.

SAWI was published as a provisional inventory, as it was based mainly on map records and photographs and was not verified by field survey. The NWSS therefore gives usthe first national update and picture of the current status of ancient woodlands. And it will provide insights into what has changed in the quarter century since the SAWI was compiled, as well as correcting errors in the original SAWI maps.

Ancient and semi-natural woodlands (ASNW)

NWSS provides current information on Ancient and semi-natural woodlands and so updates the information in the SAWI. ASNW are often described as the most important single category of woods for nature conservation or biodiversity.

The NWSS data on semi-naturalness relates to current stand structure and composition. A wood scores highly for ‘semi-naturalness’ if it has a diverse structure and composition and an absence of indicators of planting such as cultivation, straight lines of trees or geometric shaped stand boundaries.

Woods like these are likely to have a higher biodiversity value than more uniform planted woods.

A high semi-naturalness value in NWSS also suggests that a wood has been largely or entirely naturally regenerated, but this cannot be said with certainty without documentary evidence. It is possible to create an irregular structure in a planted wood by management such as irregular thinnings, or by chance events (e.g. windthrow) and prolonged low intensity management.

Plantations on ancient woodlands sites (PAWS)

The survey provides full information on the composition and structure of ancient native woods (and nearly-native woods), and also for other areas of ancient woods that were identified in SAWI.

Policy relevance

Conservation of ASNW and restoration of the biodiversity of plantations on ancient woodland sites are priorities in the Scottish Forestry Strategy and Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. Scottish Planning Policy recognises the high value of ancient woods and semi-natural woodlands for nature conservation.

How can the NWSS data be used?

Type of useNationalRegional/local authorityLandscape/site scale
Assessing the area of native woodland on ancient woodland sites and its composition and condition Yes Yes Yes
Assessing change from 1980s in the area, type and composition of ancient woodlands Yes Yes Yes
Updating the SAWI Yes n/a n/a
Planning action strategically or locally Yes Yes Yes

Using native woodlands data to develop proposals for grant support

You can use the data to help develop proposals for grant support under the SRDP.

  1. Preparing Forest Plans. Support is available for this within Woodland Improvement Grants (see below)
  2. Claims for support for one or more types of action described below:

Sustainable management of forests

This supports the management of existing areas of native woodland and the restoration of native woodland from Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS):


Woodland Improvement Grant (WIG)

WIG supports a range of activities to improve the environmental value of woodlands. Those most relevant to native woodlands are in bold.

  • long-term forest planning (PDF 160k)
  • reducing deer impact in woodlands
  • improving woodlands, through work related to designated sites or to habitats and species that are priorities under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and UKBAP
  • improving even-aged woodland for biodiversity, scenic value and enhancing the ecological stability in the long term by restructuring their age and species composition. This can include planting or natural regeneration with native species to replace non-native species in planted conifer forests. This can count towards UKBAP targets for expansion (eg conversion from 20th century plantations to native woodlands) or for restoration for planted woods on ancient woodland sites (PAWS).
  • improving or restoring associated non-woodland habitats within woodlands, through work related to designated sites and habitats and species that are priorities under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and UKBAP.


Creation of new woodlands

Supports the creation of new native woodlands and naturally regenerated native woodlands:


Native woodland management plans using NWSS

Areas of existing native woodland identified on NWSS can/should be highlighted in Forest Plans (PDF 160k)

For support under Sustainable Management of Forests, as well as the Forest Plan covering the wood there also needs to be:

  • a map of areas of native woodland and an explanation of the work to be done
  • a brief summary describing the ecological condition of the wood in relation to key attributes, and a summary of how the proposals will help to maintain or improve their condition. The current list of key attributes is:
    • stand structure
    • regeneration
    • herbivore impacts
    • species composition
    • threats and damage (includes invasive non-native shrub/field layer species)

Native and ancient woods are recognised in Scottish Planning Policy for their importance for our natural and cultural heritage.

Planning authorities are public bodies who are subject to the biodiversity duty in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, which requires all public bodies to further biodiversity where it is relevant to their functions. Development planning and management take account of native woodlands as priority habitats under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

Data from the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland can help planning authorities to prepare development plans that are based on a sound and consistent basis of knowledge of native woods.