Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, male displaying, Caledonian pine forest, Scotland

Forest wildlife and habitats

The UK Government’s Wildbird Populations Indicator shows that woodland bird populations have declined by more than 20% between 1976 and 2001.

The UK Government’s Wildbird Populations Indicator

Following the results of a 2003-04 resurvey of deciduous woodland bird populations, we can see which birds give cause for concern.

These include the lesser spotted woodpecker, willow tit, wood warbler, willow warbler, garden warbler, redstart, pied flycatcher, spotted flycatcher, lesser redpoll and tree pipit.

This indicator and these results offer a useful guide to the health of the UK’s woodlands, but are only part of the conservation story, as there are also important bird species affected by conifer plantation forestry. 

For example, black grouse in Wales and Scotland associated with young forestry and the edges of plantations; the capercaillie in Scotland’s established and new native pinewoods; and the nightjar and woodlark, which occur in forest clearfells and lowland heathland remnants in Southern and Eastern England. 

We are working together with the UK Government, devolved administrations, the Forestry Commission and Forest Service, conservation agencies and other organisations to further investigate the causes of broadleaved and conifer woodland bird declines, and how these population changes vary across the UK.

How do we start to restore habitats?

Large areas of important habitats, especially lowland heathland and peatland, have been lost to afforestation. However, with vision and hard work it is possible to restore them.

Restoring lowland heathland

  • 49 per cent of England's lowland heathland is now under trees 
  • It is an important habitat for nightjars and woodlarks 
  • As tree crops are harvested and replanted, the heathland degrades still further 
  • Removing trees starts the restoration process
  • A strategic commitment to restore heathland which is currently forested is needed now   

Restoring peatland habitats

  • 35 per cent of raised bog and 13 per cent of blanket bog in Scotland is now forested
  • It is an important habitat for wading birds, such as the dunlin
  • Peatlands are also an important carbon store which has been damaged by drainage for new forest planting
  • Peatland deteriorates further as the trees mature 
  • Removing trees and blocking drainage starts the restoration process, enhancing biodiversity and reducing long-term greenhouse gas emissions
  • Forestry policy needs to restore peatlands - not damage them 
RSPB Forsinard Flows; view from visitor trail, including snow-capped Ben Griam, Highland, Scotland

Positive forest management for wildlife

Woodlands need to be managed to benefit priority bird species and other biodiversity.

This requires a targeted management approach, but this can be successfully combined with other woodland objectives, such as timber production.

Key actions required by forest managers:

  • Locating and designing new forest planting to benefit, not harm, wildlife.
  • Restructuring existing forest plantations to enhance biodiversity.
  • Restoring important woodland and non-woodland habitats.
  • Including biodiversity targets in woodland management objectives.
  • Certifying woodland to the UK Woodland Assurance Standard.
  • Achieving favourable condition on designated nature conservation sites (ASSIs, SSSIs, NNRs, SACs, SPAs and Ramsar sites).
  • Managing forest recreation to protect and enhance biodiversity, protecting species such as capercaillie from disturbance.
Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, male resting, Caledonian pine forest, Scotland