For decades the Woodland Trust has championed the value of Scotland’s native-woodlands to the Scottish Government, the Forestry Commission, councils, landowners, and agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage. To their credit, many of them did not take much persuading, but this week no-one in Scotland can be in any doubt as to the importance of native woodland to the country.
This comes with the unveiling of the final analysis of the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland after more than seven years of comprehensive fieldwork led by the Forestry Commission to establish an “authoritative picture of Scotland’s native woodlands” covering, location, type, extent, composition and condition; and the results are fascinating. But first we should give a heartfelt thanks to the team who have worked so hard at compiling this massive and accurate dataset.
As we already knew, 4% of Scotland’s land area is covered by native woodland, of which less than 1% is on ancient woodland sites, but we can now tell so much more, such as what the average deadwood volumes are in each wood, or the grazing impact from rabbits or deer. The meticulous fieldwork even assessed the extent of invasive non-native species and the percentage of natural regeneration.
Natural regeneration is a real concern from the data in the survey since less than half of all of Scotland’s native woods show any significant signs of established regeneration. A definite problem for the future, but one that we have hard evidence of now to press the case for doing something about it.
One reason for these low levels of regeneration might lie with another stark statistic; that of herbivorous grazing, mainly wild deer. A third of Scotland’s native woodlands show high or very high impact from grazing, indicated red and yellow on the graph.
Finally, the survey has thrown a lot of new light onto the condition and extent of both our historic native Caledonian pine forest – a core area of 17,900 hectares – and our other ancient woodlands – 120,300 hectares. Perhaps of most concern is when the current survey is overlaid on the Scottish Ancient Woodlands Inventory which used maps dating from roughly 1970. This shows us the extent of any change between the two over the last 40 years, and although the earlier survey contains many errors which mean that we cannot be wholly accurate to looks like as much as 14% of our ancient woodland might have been lost over a generation.
Interestingly, and perhaps a tribute to the work done by the Woodland Trust and our campaigners and wood watchers, less than 1% of this loss can be attributed to development, and a similarly small amount has been lost to agriculture, but the vast majority has simply become open ground, perhaps pointing back to the problems of failed regeneration and the grazing of wild animals.
So, what next? We are delighted that the Scottish Government plan to take action, and look forward to assisting the new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy working group which has been set up to gain a better understanding of what is happening to Scotland’s woods, and how we can best protect them.
And, in the meantime, like everyone else in woodland management and policy, we will be playing with all the exciting new data layers (available here) to try and better understand our native woodlands and what is happening to them out there, thanks to this unique and impressive piece of work.
Charles Dundas, Public Affairs Manager (Scotland)