Woodland ecology and management

Investigating how changes in forest management and other pressures on woodland affect woodland wildlife.

RSPB organic farm at Lake Vyrnwy

Overview

Woodlands in the UK have developed though intensive management by humans over thousands of years. The type and intensity of management changes over time as the value of woodland and agricultural products change and through technological advances. Woodland management has altered the structure of woods and the tree species present from the once natural forests. 

This project looks at how current changes in forest management and other pressures on woodland such as introduced tree diseases and increases in non native deer browsing affect woodland wildlife. This allows us to identify potential threats and develop management and policy tools to minimise impacts on threatened wildlife.

Objectives

  • Identify impacts of tree diseases and management of disease on biodiversity.
  • Assess location and type of woodland planting most likely to provide biodiversity benefits whilst minimising negative impacts on biodiversity in other habitats.
  • Understand how woodland management and deer browsing impact on biodiversity.

Progress

Literature and other sources have been acquired and information extracted ready to be analysed to produce a report on evidence for impacts of tree planting on biodiversity.

Between 2010 and 2012, a number of woodland areas across the East Midlands were surveyed to record bird populations and woodland structure prior to introducing woodland grant agreements. These agreements are designed to provide financial support for managing woodlands over a number of years to improve their structure for woodland bird populations. Management is now nearing completion and we intend to return in the future to record their effectiveness.

Bird species associated with oak trees and oak woodlands have been identified along with their characteristics and are being used to assess impacts of oak decline on biodiversity.

Planned Work

In collaboration with Edinburgh University, we are reviewing woodland planting and its effects on biodiversity and water. Our research will identify where there are benefits for woodland biodiversity, harm to other habitats, impacts on water quality and flood mitigation. It will also identify any gaps in our knowledge.

As part of a long term project to look at the impact of woodland improvement grants used to improve woodland structure for birds we plan to revisit both areas that have been managed and nearby unmanaged area to assess impacts on bird populations.

In collaboration with the James Hutton Institute we are identifying bird species associated with oak and other similar species. This is part of a larger partnership project looking at the causes and impacts of acute and chronic oak decline in oak woodland, including the impacts of adaptive strategies for managing these plant health issues on biodiversity.

Results

A project funded by Defra and completed in 2014 identified that strongest effects of deer browsing occurred in areas of woodland with young growth, particularly coppice areas. In these areas there was a strong negative effect on density of trees and bushes and reduced population of shrub nesting birds. In more mature woodland there was a detectable but small effect of deer on the shrub layer but not a discernible effect on bird populations. Normal forestry management rather than conservation management had no consistent effect on bird populations except for clearfell and replant operations which provided habitat for species associated with young woodland.

In 2012, a fungus causing ash dieback was first recorded in Britain. Concern about it’s impact on biodiversity was raised after reports of extensive ash mortality on continental Europe. In a project with James Hutton Institute and others, the biodiversity implications of this disease and managing it were assessed. Few bird species were strongly associated with ash, and lichens, mosses, liverworts and insects were most likely to be affected by loss of ash trees. The biggest impact would be if there was rapid felling of diseased trees, which would not allow species time to adapt.

Funding

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Paul Bellamy

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

paul.bellamy@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Habitat: Woodland Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research