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Published: 30 May 2021

Standards 8-12: Biodiversity and woodland

Maintaining designated sites and encouraging natural processes.

The biodiversity of wild land should be as close as possible to a ‘natural ecosystem’ that has evolved primarily through the influence of the soils and the climate. Native habitats are the fabric of natural ecosystems. To achieve wild land ecosystem health the full range of habitat – from the mountain tops to glen or valley floor – should be present and self-sustaining.

In many cases, woodlands – including montane scrub, riparian woodland and native woodland – are the missing components of wild land ecosystems due to years of burning and overgrazing by deer and sheep. Consequently, woodland management is often a key component of biodiversity management.

8. Maintain in favourable condition

There are a wide range of designated sites, including Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserves (NNR), National Scenic Areas (NSA) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The Statutory Agencies (Natural England, NRW, SNH) are responsible for ensuring designated areas achieve ‘favourable’ status usually monitored using Common Standards Monitoring. Based on these standards, ‘favourable’ or ‘unfavourable’ are terms used to describe the condition of a feature of interest in relation to defined limits as a result of baseline and surveillance monitoring.

9. Maximise native habitats

Native habitats are the fabric of natural ecosystems. To achieve wild land ecosystem health the full range of habitats from mountain top to glen or valley floor should be present and self-sustaining. In many cases, this will mean managing grazing and trampling impacts, principally by deer and sheep, to enable habitats to regenerate and fully occupy their niches.

10. Biodiversity species management

While the mainstay of wild land management is the landscape or ecosystem scale approach, land managers may have to manage specific species. Local or national rarities, and protected species, may require unique actions such as the encouragement of specific habitats (for example, woodland edge habitats for black grouse or blaeberry for capercaillie).

Non-native invasive species (for example, mink or rhododendrons) should be removed where possible, especially where threatening native species or habitats. The killing of native predators should be avoided.

11. Re-structure woodlands

In the past, many native woodland sites were planted with conifers, which are now close to felling. These sites can now be assessed with a view to returning them to native woodland by felling and re-planting with native species.

Past decisions on tree planting were often driven by grants and tax relief, and in many locations exotic conifers were a poor choice for the terrain. In these cases, the crop may have little value and current support systems may subsidise an early felling and restocking with appropriate native species.

On even-age native species plantations, it’s desirable to create clearings, produce dead wood, clear riparian edges, feather straight edges, remove fences and encourage the regeneration of mixed native species.

12. Re-introductions

Where species have recently gone extinct re-introductions could be considered. Priority should be given to habitat restoration to  create the conditions needed for missing species and to encourage their natural spread – through habitat corridors, for example. Any re-introductions should be part of a regional or national scheme and need comprehensive local community consultation and consent.

Useful links

Natural England Designated sites
Scottish Natural Heritage database of protected sites
UK BAP – Priority species & habitats
Natural England: Invasive Species information
Scottish Government code of practice on invasive species
JMT Woodland Management position statement
JMT reintroductions position statement
Scottish Code for species translocations