From moorland to forest - how do birds respond?
Most of the characteristic open upland habitats of Scotland result from millennia of anthropogenic influence. The complex geology, topography and other environmental conditions working with and against man have led to the open often peat-dominated landscapes being described emotively as one of Europe’s last remaining ‘wildernesses’ or as a degraded ‘wet desert’.
Following very long-term deforestation, significant and systematic efforts to increase the woodland cover of Scotland started in the 20th Century and continue into the 21st. Initially driven by policies to reduce dependency on overseas sourced timber products, these have progressively evolved to include environmental and ecosystem service attributes together driving a reforestation programme. Current targets aim to increase woodland cover in Scotland from 17% to 25% of its land area. Although that figure is inclusive of commercially managed plantations, there are now many examples of native woodland expansion and recreation across the uplands. Examples include the Scottish Forestry Alliance, the Carrifran Wildwood Initiative, the Mountain Woodlands Project plus many estate-based plantings that are managed by NGOs (e.g. NTS and the John Muir Trust), Forestry Commission Scotland or privately.
The development of these ‘new’ forests will take many decades but already the shrublands and ungrazed exclosures that have been created are supporting important numbers of some birds such as Cuckoo, Willow Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Whinchat, Tree Pipit and Reed Bunting. As well as these species that have declined in many parts of lowland Britain, more typical upland species, for example Black Grouse and Short-eared Owl, are found in such areas.
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- Calladine, J., Bielinski, A. & Shaw, G. 2013. Effects on bird abundance and species richness of edge restructuring to include shrubs at the interface between conifer plantations and moorland. Bird Study In press.
- Fuller, R.J. 2012. Avian responses to transitional habitats in temperate cultural landscapes: woodland edges and young growth. In Birds and Habitat: Relationships in Changing Landscapes (Ed. Fuller, R.J.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Pp 125-149.
- Fuller, R.J., Gillings, S. & Whitfield, D.P. 1999. Responses of breeding birds to expansion of scrub in the eastern Scottish highlands: preliminary implications for conservation strategies. Vogelwelt 120: 53-62.
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- Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Henderson, C.B. 1998. Avian community composition and patterns of bird distribution within birch-heath mosaics in north-east Scotland. Ornis Fennica 75: 27-37.
- Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Balmer, D.E. 2000. Breeding birds in scrub in the Scottish Highlands: Variation in community composition between scrub type and successional stage. Scottish Forestry 54: 73-85.
- Helle, P. & Fuller, R.J. 1988. Migrant passerine birds in European forest successions in relation to vegetation height and geographic position. Journal of Animal Ecology 57: 565-579.