The importance and contribution of the Highlands to Scotland’s native woodlands has been emphasised in recently released survey. Scotland’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse, unveiled Scotland’s first complete map and dataset of native woodlands, the product of an eight project carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland.
Considered to be most comprehensive habitat survey project ever carried out in the UK and possibly the survey results include details on the location, type, extent, composition and condition of all native woodlands, and plantations on ancient woodland sites, over 0.5ha in size.
Speaking at the launch event, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “This survey – unique in terms of its depth, scope and focus – has for the first time given us a detailed, authoritative picture of a vitally important element of Scotland’s ‘Natural Capital’.
“For example, the survey found that over 22.5 per cent (311,153ha) of Scotland’s forests are native woodland – with 42 per cent of these being in the Highlands – and that 46% of native woodland is in satisfactory condition for biodiversity.
“With the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS), we now have an invaluable tool to assist local authorities, NGOs, land owners and managers to work independently – and together – to more effectively focus resources on managing, maintaining, enhancing and expanding native woodlands across Scotland and we know that already, since the data were collected, a further 7,800 ha of native trees have been planted.
“Eight years in the making, this dataset is a remarkable achievement. I would encourage anyone involved in land and woodland management to make use of the NWSS data and consider ways of working with the Commission to develop further applications of it.”
The free-to-access dataset, (accessible at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/nwss) could be used for a wide range of purposes pertinent to the bioenergy industry, for example by assisting:
• strategic planning for areas such as national parks, local authorities, river catchments or habitat networks;
• development planning and control;
• environmental assessments;
• targeting incentives for management;
• management planning for individual woodlands;
• assessing potential exposure to tree pests and disease threats
The Commission’s Biodiversity Policy Adviser, Gordon Patterson, who has overseen the delivery of the NWSS, said: “The project gives us a firm evidence base for making decisions about managing this vital resource for the benefit of everyone. It can also be used to help predict and monitor the effects of pressures such as climate change.
“An example of the value of the data was when we made use of it in November 2012 to quickly identify where in Scotland there were ash areas that needed to be checked for the presence of Ash dieback. The fact that we completed that survey in a remarkable five days illustrates the value – and potential additional applications – of this information.”
The results of the survey and accompanying maps are clearly a welcome resource, with Duncan Stone, Scottish Natural Heritage, adding: “This survey is a terrific piece of work, the sustained effort of many people, and contains a lot of valuable information. The analysis showing loss and poor condition in some of these wonderful woods is a serious cause for concern, and emphasizes the need for a renewed effort from land managers and government to reverse this decline.
“However, as well as illustrating some problems, the survey is itself part of the solution; it’s an enormously valuable tool to help us manage our native woodlands – for example, by helping to target support schemes or to plan land management changes in smarter ways.”