Restoration initiatives seek to address widespread deforestation and forest degradation, but face substantial problems. “Passive restoration”, whereby abandoned agricultural land undergoes secondary succession, is often slow, owing to biotic and abiotic limitations. “Active restoration”, chiefly accomplished by planting trees, can be very expensive if large areas are to be restored. We suggest “woodland islets” as an alternative way to achieve ecological restoration in extensive agricultural landscapes, particularly in low-productivity environments. This approach involves the planting of many small, dense blocks of native trees to enhance biodiversity and provide a range of ecosystem services. If the surrounding land is abandoned, the islets act as sources of woodland species and seed, which can accelerate woodland development. Alternatively, if the surrounding area is used for cultivation or pasture, the islets will increase the conservation value of the land and offer the potential for income generation. Here, we review existing approaches to woodland restoration and evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the woodland islets approach.