Ancient Woodland Restoration at Thirlmere

The Thirlmere Woodland Restoration Project

Cumbria Woodlands partnered with the Lake District Foundation and United Utilities from January 2022 until March 2023 to deliver important nature restoration activities in the Thirlmere valley.

This project was funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and its Arm's-Length Bodies. It was delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

The funding enabled the following:

  • The delivery of vital restoration work on some of the most important Ancient Woodland sites in the Thirlmere Valley, and which include Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Plantations on Ancient Woodland sites.
  • The creation of a new full-time post, supporting a graduate forester to hone and develop their skills which is vital to ensure a skills pipeline into the conversation sector.
  • Advice on woodland creation and management to landowners and managers across Cumbria.


One vital new role was created for a graduate forester.

195 ha

The number of hectares of ancient woodland restoration targetted across the Thirlmere catchment. 

40 days

The number of days given to free woodlands creation & woodlands management advice across Cumbria

The Plan

The aim of this project was to restore ancient woodland sites to their former condition and provide benefits the woodland and the wider environment. These habitats are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) which are sites that contain evidence of former ancient woodland and have subsequently been planted with species not native to the area.

Restoration of these habitats can generally be broken down into three steps: removing threats to ancient woodland features, encouraging regeneration of desired species and formation of native canopy cover and finally, enhancing the site by adding certain features that are missing from the habitat.

Knowing the woodland is the most important part of any forest operation and is especially important for restoration. All the PAWS were surveyed in detail to identify the ancient woodland features we wanted to protect, the threats that affect them, and the most appropriate way to improve the woodland.

Mitigation or removal of threats throughout the PAWS areas, with particular emphasis on the most critical areas and most serious threats, was the first operation to prevent further decline. Further surveying was then carried out to find out what features were missing and why. Enhancement works were then planned based on this and long-term adaptive management planning was put in place to increase the woodlands' biodiversity and resilience to future threats.

Ancient Woodland Restoration at Thirlmere

We caught up with Bryce to find out more about the project and the plans for the year ahead.

Autumn Work

Work included-

  • Thinning out the existing canopy at Swirls.
  • Beech Thinning at Dale Head & Great How
  • Red Squirrel Monitoring throughout the Valley
  • Western Hemlock Clearing in Swirls

Summer Work


As part of ongoing management, the Rhododendron present in some areas of the valley was once again cut back and the stumps were treated using Eco Plugs to prevent regrowth which means no chemicals are being released into the soil or groundwater.

Deer Management-

In May 2022, Bryce turned the attention of the project towards managing deer without restricting public access. Working with the deer stalker to assess the threat of deer for the whole valley, the need to review the fencing and access was highlighted.

Controlling Light Levels For Regeneration

We caught up with Bryce to give us the latest on the work going on at Great Howe at the North end of Thirlmere.

Works have involved controlling the Holly and Beech to adjust the light levels and allow some regeneration and to protect the bryophytes in the area which gives it its SSSI status.

Bryce talks us through what's been chopped, and what effect that is having, and will have on this special area of woodland.

Meet Bryce

A critical part of this project was the recruitment of a Graduate Forester to start implementing the plans for the Thirlmere valley. Not only is this project an investment in the future of the forests and woodlands around the reservoir, but also an investment in future foresters such as Bryce.

The project supports the ongoing professional development of Bryce and his progression in the industry. Being able to work across three organisations gives a depth of experience within the sector from funding, to management, to implementation on the ground.

Supporting Bryce through continuing professional development, memberships of professional bodies and mentoring is an investment in both Thirlmere and Bryce.

"I hope to start the gradual process of regeneration of PAWS and thus improve the condition of the wider environment to allow future generations to benefit from my work."

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