Future woodland management and regeneration rely on decisions that are often driven by current cultural choices and ecological knowledge. What is the contribution of historical data to such management? While some argue that palaeoecological and historical knowledge is irrelevant due to the noanalogue climate and human land-use scenarios of the future, we suggest that historical knowledge must inform ecological knowledge of the past and modern cultural debate. However, our historical picture often lacks detail, forming a mere backdrop to decision making, or worse, developing into ‘myths’ (Smout, 2000), through which rhetorical viewpoints can be argued. Using case studies, we conclude that arboreal conservation needs to take a broad approach with regeneration in open areas and patchy clear areas in wooded environments.