Woodlands Planted for Resilience

Combe Sydenham Species Planting following Phytopthera ramorum

Following the first reported UK outbreak of Phytophthora ramorum (PR) on his estate, owner William Theed took the lead in supporting research into alternative species resistant to the disease.

Coombe Sydenham Country Park, Somerset – William Theed

RFS Woodlands for Climate Change Award 2014 – Highly Commended


In 2009, during a visit to the further reaches of his woodland, the owner noticed dieback occurring in a stand of Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi). Forestry Commission staff, and later plant health expert Joan Webber, visited the site within days and realised that the cause was unknown. Samples taken from the site soon confirmed that this was PR – the first time this disease had been seen on larch in the UK.

The 13ha stand of infected trees was felled as a biosecurity measure. Discussions followed as to the best course of action. The owner was unhappy with one scenario ‒ of leaving the site fallow for five years _ instead suggesting that it would provide an opportunity to test a range of alternative species that may be resistant to PR, and suitable for projected climate change.

Site preparation

Following the felling of the larch, all rhododendron was removed from the site, as this is also a host to PR. Brash from the clearfell was raked and burnt, both to help with replanting and to reduce shelter for rabbits. High seats were put in place to control deer.

Species selection

Following discussion with scientists from Forest Research, three species of conifer were selected with requirements:

Common nameLatin name% in mixture
Douglas-FirPseudotsuga menziesii50
Sitka SprucePicea sitchensis40
Western Red CedarThuja plicata10

Plants had to be sourced rapidly, late in the planting season (March). Three‐year‐old improved planting stock of Douglas‐fir (Darrington provenance) and Sitka spruce were sourced (there is currently no improved stock of western red cedar).


The three species were planted in an intimate mixture, in rows 2.1m apart, the trees 1.9m within rows. The site is designed as an experiment to allow statistical analyses.

Monitoring of survival and growth is ongoing. To date, both have been excellent.

Lessons Learnt

In the face of a catastrophic disease outbreak, the owner realised there was an opportunity to contribute to knowledge for the good of the forest sector as a whole. The site has since been used widely by the Forestry Commission in public relations to communicate the impacts of the disease and appropriate responses.

In addition to its role as an experiment, the
owner fully anticipates the stand will produce quality timber for the local timber market, while the
on‐site sawmill and biomass boiler will utilise all other arisings.


The 2014 Excellence in Forestry Climate Change Award was supported by Forestry Commission England in partnership with England’s Climate Ready Support Service hosted in the Environment  Agency.

Category judges:

Dr Gabriel Hemery FICFor, is Chief Executive of the
Sylva Foundation.
John Weir MICFor, Advisor for Woodland Creation and Resilience, Forestry Commission England.

Text and Photos by the Sylva Foundation.