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Native Woodland Survey of Scotland

By GeoConnexion - 3rd February 2014 - 15:41

A powerful new environment management tool was made available to local government planners, land owners and land managers when Forestry Commission Scotland unveiled the first complete map and freely available spatial dataset of Scotland’s native woodlands.

The result of an eight year effort, the Native Woodland Survey Scotland is thought to be the most comprehensive habitat survey report in the UK and possibly the first example of its kind in Europe in its extent and the accessibility of the information.

Identifying and surveying the location, type, extent, composition and condition of all native woodlands, and plantations on ancient woodland sites, over 0.5ha in size, the project has revealed that 22.6% of Scotland’s total woodland area (or 311,153ha) is native woodland.

Gordon Patterson, the Commission’s Biodiversity Policy Advisor has overseen the project. He said: “Native woodlands are particularly important for biodiversity and host a high proportion of our rare and threatened species, perhaps more than any other habitat type of comparable area. Nurturing, enhancing and expanding these woodlands is key to sustaining Scotland’s biodiversity in ways that will benefit wildlife, communities and individuals. Encouraging aspects of the survey include the strongly semi-natural characteristics and the high average proportion of native tree species cover in all canopy layers, which should both help native woodland ecosystems to be resilient provided more diverse, widespread and abundant regeneration can be secured. But the survey has also shown the nature and extent of the pressures and challenges which still need to be tackled if we are to secure a healthy and flourishing future for all native woodlands. This is an important tool for everyone who has a stake in ensuring the health and vitality of these woodlands.”

Recognized as priority habitats, much has been done in the last 25 years or more to protect and enhance native woodlands but they remain in a vulnerable state, being subject to pressures such as fragmentation, deer browsing, non-native tree planting and the spread of invasive non-native plants and animals - as well as underlying threats from plant pests and diseases, climate change and atmospheric deposition of pollutants.

Gordon added: “Now, with the most detailed, authoritative dataset of this phenomenally important resource that there has ever been, local authorities, NGOs and all land owners and managers can focus attention and resources on concerted and coordinated action to combat these threats and help revitalize native woodlands across the country.”

Summarized in national, local and regional reports (covering each local authority areas, both national parks and the Central Scotland Green Network), the survey results are also available in a unique, free-to-access online dataset that can inform national policy and be used for a wide variety of national, regional or site specific purposes. Data on individual woods is available on the Commission’s online map viewer and to get the most out of the information, half day and one day training sessions available.

Suggested applications of the findings include:

  • strategic planning for areas such as national parks, local authorities, river catchments or habitat networks;
  • development planning and control;
  • environmental assessments;
  • effective planning & targeting of effort to manage and improve native woodlands
  • management planning for individual woodlands.

A good example of value of the data was the ash dieback survey in November 2012 where areas containing even 10% cover of ash tree in Scotland were very quickly identified and targeted for field survey.

To further extend the possible uses of the NWSS, the Commission has also produced a series of short, general interest films explaining the nature, benefits and differences between native woodland types. These can additionally be used in conjunction with educational resources prepared for the Curriculum for Excellence (Levels 4 and 5) to help young people learn about the value of this important element of Scotland’s biodiversity.

Scottish Government Minister for the Environment and Climate, Paul Wheelhouse, welcomed the NWSS at the recent launch event.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “This unique exercise has for the first time given us an accurate, detailed picture of one of the most valuable elements of Scotland’s ‘Natural Capital. It is a remarkable achievement. In these times of increasing natural and man-made pressures on our woodlands, this survey - unique in terms of its depth, scope and focus - arrives not a moment too soon. I would encourage everyone to make full use of it and help contribute to the ongoing evolution of a more cohesive, landscape-scale approach to managing our native woodlands.”

Survey findings include:

  • Actual native woodland area falls between various previous estimates.
  • Just under half of native woods were assessed to be in satisfactory condition
  • The first comprehensive assessment of the extent and condition of the 84 remnant native pinewoods in the Caledonian Pinewoods Inventory
  • less upland mixed ashwoods and upland oakwoods than expected.
  • significant loss of ancient woodland over the last 40 years (mostly to unenclosed open land in the uplands)
  • need to boost natural regeneration levels
  • the most widespread threat to the condition of native woods is excessive herbivore impact, largely due to deer.

For more information about the NWSS – and to find out about training on how to access and use the data – visit www.forestry.gov.uk/NWSS

If you would like to view the Final Report of the Survey (PDF), contact the FCS Press Office: 0131 314 6507

Read More: Climate Change Land Information Systems Forestry

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