Scotland’s first complete map and dataset of Scotland's native woodlands was revealed yesterday (Monday). The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS) was carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland over an eight year period from 2006 to 2013. The FCS said it is thought to be the most comprehensive habitat survey project ever carried out in the UK and possibly the first example of its kind in Europe.
The free-to-access dataset includes details on the location, type, extent, composition and condition of all native woodlands, and plantations on ancient woodland sites, over 0.5ha in size.
“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’," said Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Environment and Climate Change.
The survey found that over 22.5 per cent (311,153ha) of Scotland’s forests are native woodland, or 4% of Scotland's total land area, with around 42 per cent of these woodlands being in the Highlands.
The NWSS found that less than half (46%) of woodlands are "in satisfactory condition for biodiversity."
For many years, the large number of deer has been blamed for woodland loss in the Highlands. Wheelhouse said: "While we have no comparable historic data to compare with the survey, the survey findings suggest that over the past 40 years we have lost a significant amount of ancient woodland in the uplands, and the survey has shown that the most widespread threat to native woodland health and regeneration is excessive browsing and grazing, mainly by deer."
Wheelhouse added: “Much has been done over the past 30 years to reverse centuries’ worth of damage but – clearly – there is still much to do. With the 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."
The survey is expected to be used for a wide range of purposes – from planning areas such as national parks, river catchments or habitat networks to 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."
He added: “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."
Duncan Stone, SNH’s Land Use Policy and Advice Manager, called the survey "a terrific piece of work".
"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," he said.
“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.”
As well as being available in an online dataset and summarized in national, local and regional reports, the NWSS includes a series of general information films about native woodland types.
Educational tools are being developed, which can be used in the Curriculum for Excellence (Levels 4 and 5) to teach the next generation about the biodiversity value of this environmental asset.
Scots pine is national tree
The NWSS comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the Scots Pine has been chosen as the national tree of Scotland. A three month consultation to choose a national tree found that the Scots Pine was the clear favourite, with over 52 per cent (2,374) of all responses opting for the tree.
Over 4,500 people responded to the consultation run by Forestry Commission Scotland.
The second favourite tree, the Rowan, received 15 per cent (687) of the responses and in third place came the Holly with 7 per cent (333).
The idea of a national tree of Scotland came from Alex Hamilton, a member of the public who brought his campaign to the Scottish Parliament through a petition and received cross-party support from MSPs.
The national tree of Scotland is a symbolic designation, which will be used by Forestry Commission Scotland to raise awareness about Scotland's trees and woodlands.
“I am delighted at the news and congratulate the Scottish Government," said Hamilton. "I look forward to this symbol of our beautiful and life-giving woodlands being embraced by all."