Breeding bird communities within a parkland-woodland continuum: the distinctiveness of wood-pasture

Author(s): Fuller, R.J. & Green, T.

Published: June 2020  

Journal: Arboricultural Journal

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1080/03071375.2020.1767965

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Open-grown veteran trees and wood-pasture are landscape features of high nature conservation value in Europe. Relationships are described between vegetation structure and breeding bird communities in a landscape rich in veteran oaks. Four habitat types were examined: open parkland devoid of scrub and small trees, open-canopy wood-pasture with a complex structure, closed-canopy semi-natural woodland, and closed-canopy managed woodland. Numbers of bird species, bird diversity and numbers of individual songbirds were consistently lowest in parkland. Species composition of bird communities in parkland was strikingly different to that in all other sites and the species composition of open-canopy wood-pasture was distinct from that of closed-canopy woodland. Differences in bird communities between sites were associated with differences in vegetation structure, notably the density of vegetation in the field and shrub layers. The density of veteran trees (>100 cm dbh) had little measurable effect on the characteristics of the bird communities. Open-canopy wood-pasture, with open-grown trees and complex low vegetation, including scrub, supports bird communities that complement those in closed-canopy woodland and delivers conservation benefits through its relatively high habitat heterogeneity. Rewilding, and even the spread of ash dieback, offers opportunities for creating more open-canopy grazed woodland in western Europe.
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