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Major new project maps out woodland biodiversity

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WrEN woodland survey

An innovative joint project between the University of Stirling, Forest Research and Natural England is using woodland creation and maps from 1840 to the present day to assess the impact of past land use change on current biodiversity.

Initial findings from the Woodland Creation and Ecological Networks (WrEN) project are published this week in the open access journal Ecology and Evolution and outline how British woodlands can be used as a study system to inform landscape-scale conservation.

Dr Kevin Watts from Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission and lead author of the study, explained: “Experimental studies to inform how best to restore landscapes for wildlife conservation are really hard to do due to the large scales of time and distance required but the combination of a long history of woodland planting in the UK, coupled with comprehensive historical mapping, provides an excellent, possibly unique, opportunity to develop such experiments.”

WrEN is a long-term, large-scale ‘natural experiment’ created by identifying woodlands which were planted over the past 160 years from historical maps which have only recently become available. This provides a means of testing how past actions have influenced populations of animals and plants we observe today.

Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, a researcher on the project from the University of Stirling, said: “So far we have surveyed over 100 woodlands in Scotland and England for a really wide variety of wildlife including plants, invertebrates, bats, birds and small mammals.

“Now we are in the process of identifying what features of the woodland or its surrounding environment are most important – we hope to use this information to guide policy and practice so that we can ensure that when we plant woodlands in the future we are doing so in a way most likely to benefit wildlife.” 

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Notes for editors
Background information
  • The research paper ‘Using historical woodland creation to construct a long-term, large-scale natural experiment: the WrEN project’ is published online in Ecology and Evolution journal.
  • The WrEN project can be followed on Twitter @WrENproject or via their website:
  • To date, WrEN has been funded by a range of organisations with an interest in the environment and land management including: Defra, Forest Research, National Forest Company, Natural England, Natural Environment Research Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, University of Stirling, Tarmac, with additional support from the Woodland Trust.

School of Natural Sciences

The School of Natural Sciences within the University of Stirling is home to world-leading research on the themes of Aquatic Food Security, Living with Environmental Change, Minds in Real Environment and Computation and Modelling.  Our work is based in four leading academic divisions: The Institute of Aquaculture, Biological and Environmental Sciences, Computing Science and Mathematics, and Psychology.

In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, the School’s Institute of Aquaculture is ranked fourth in the UK for Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science and is ranked as the top aquaculture centre in the UK, with 90 per cent of research impact rated as outstanding.

The School of Natural Sciences contributes world leading research impact. In REF2014 Psychology is assessed as having 100% world leading impact; the Institute of Aquaculture is assessed as having 90% world leading research impact.

Forest Research

Forest Research is an executive agency of the Forestry Commission. It conducts world-class scientific research and technical development relevant to forestry to support and inform the policies for sustainable forest management of all four administrations in the UK.

Natural England
Established in 2006, Natural England is the government’s adviser on the natural environment. Our work is focused on helping to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and for the services they provide. 

For more information visit www.GOV.UK/natural-england and follow us on twitter @NaturalEngland.

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