A “Domesday Book” for Scotland’s woods: real insight into the condition of Scotland’s native woods

Scot survey blog beeslack

Ancient woodland at Beeslack, Midlothian

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.

Scot survey blog Regeneration

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.

Scot survey blog herbivores

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.

Scot survey blog Ledmore Migdale Habitat Map

The NWSS shows the habitat types around Ledmore and Migdale Woods in Sutherland. You can see the ancient oak wood in red beside the loch.

Charles Dundas, Public Affairs Manager (Scotland)


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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3 Responses to A “Domesday Book” for Scotland’s woods: real insight into the condition of Scotland’s native woods

  1. Ash says:

    I agree with both Matt & Derek. I think it high time shops, supermarkets whoever, started putting venison on display for everyone to buy. The only time I see venison for sale is when it’s in a pie, in a pricey restaurant. Salmon at one time was a food only rich people ate, now it seems we are all eating this “healthier” fish. Could the same story be told of venison in a few years time?

  2. Derek West says:

    This report shows what happens when large predators are eliminated,they not only reduce numbers but keep herbivores on the move,allowing regeneration.culling is a poor substitute,

  3. matt derrington says:

    Perfect time to re-introduce that truly wondrous animal the Lynx. Would help slow and probably reverse the Red Deer numbers, further boost Scotland’s wild tourism, and farmers would enjoy even more subsidies, this time for sheep taken. Unlike Wolves, this animal doesn’t have a seriously scary, albeit highly undeserved, reputation with most people.

    At the same time, it seems Scotland could do well by making deer stalking more accessible and not only the occasional passtime of people with lots of money. At the very least it should optimise sales of this fine and sustainable wild meat- either through the internet, or in supermarkets. Why are we buying Red Deer from New Zealand if we also have too many?

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