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Habitat management and restoration

Challenges

The increasing number of companies and organizations that are committing to reducing their carbon emissions is leading to a greater demand for investment in restoring woodland habitats. This is because these habitats can help absorb carbon and offset the emissions that organizations still produce. However, it's not always easy or without risk to get the most carbon-absorbing benefits from restoring woodland in Scotland. There needs to be a better understanding of how to do this in a way that also brings other benefits to society and reduces the risk of failure.

Climate change will also affect the ability of trees to absorb carbon, and different restoration investors may have different goals and levels of uncertainty, which can impact the outcome of these projects. It's important to carefully consider these factors and assess any potential unintended consequences.

In Scotland, a common land management practice is called "muirburn," which involves prescribed burning on moorlands where grouse shooting is a major land use. However, there is still a lot of debate and uncertainty around the effects of muirburn on biodiversity and how it interacts with wildfires.

Scotland's Atlantic Oakwoods are an important habitat for a variety of species, but there is limited knowledge about how these ecosystems work and how to best protect and restore them. This includes a lack of understanding of the diversity of the soil biota, which is critical for developing effective management strategies.

The government is taking steps to reverse the loss of biodiversity by encouraging more environmentally friendly land use practices and habitat restoration. However, to be effective, it's important to know where to focus these efforts and how to measure the success of these efforts.

Questions

  • How can we monitor an outcomes-based approach and provide the scientific and social evidence for the best approaches? Can monitoring be designed into these schemes so that they are more adaptive to change and emerging knowledge?
  • Can we develop a major map-based habitat restoration model, which considers the carbon, nature, connectivity, socio-economic, non-stationary climate risks, and biosecurity issues? What are the life-cycle risks, costs and benefits associated with carbon sequestration proposals, including commercial and non-commercial woodland?
  • How can we maximise biodiversity and societal benefits from natural carbon capture, for example through ecosystems supporting rich or scarce species assemblages, and providing benefits to people through disaster mitigation, harvesting or wellbeing?

Solutions

This project aims to assess how specific land uses and management activities affect biodiversity and ecosystem services to inform land use policy.

 

Multiple benefits of woodland habitat restoration 

This project defines the restoration at the landscape scale and the parcel scale as interventions to improve the flow of benefits. We concentrate on native woodlands, exploring and mapping criteria for their restoration and expansion and the flow of benefits likely derived from them. At the landscape level, we are focusing on fragmentation. To better understand the need for landscape-scale intervention, we are assessing the vulnerability (in terms of loss of niche space and risk of fragmentation) to climatic change of existing and future woodlands.

We combine mixed methods and a sociological approach to the qualitative and quantitative analyses of data on multiple benefits of woodland habitat restoration (and to whom the benefits flow) with, map-based integrated socio-biophysical modelling of the risk of unintended consequences of different restoration scenarios for Scotland under conditions of climate change. The role of individual investor decision-making under uncertainty is being examined when modelling the impacts of investors’ restoration decisions on carbon storage and other benefits. Combined, these interdisciplinary approaches will allow the co-production of new knowledge on how to support high-quality woodland habitat restoration activities for multiple benefits to society, and how much land might be available for such activities.

 

Case studies of habitat restoration and management

This project is producing case studies of habitat restoration and management and their impact on biodiversity and the distribution and intensity of muirburn across mainland Scotland and wildfire occurrence to assess how these interact and influence biodiversity. Mechanical removal (cutting/mowing) is being considered as an alternative to muirburn, but its relative impact on fire risk (linked to activities in the CentrePeat project), soils, or biodiversity are unknown. The outputs of this work are directly informing policy and other stakeholders of the biodiversity impacts of and interaction between muirburn and wildfire and provide evidence of the relative effects of mechanical removal compared to muirburn.

 

Ancient woodland restoration

We are producing a case study on habitat restoration and management, and their impact on biodiversity which focuses on two of Scotland’s most important native woodland habitats: Atlantic Oakwoods and Caledonian Pinewoods. Atlantic Oakwoods are of international importance and renowned for the high diversity of lower plants and lichens. However, many are in poor condition, in part due to underplanting with conifers. Considerable resources have been spent on restoring these Plantations in Ancient Woodlands (PAW sites) by removing the conifers. Many Caledonian Pinewoods are also in poor condition, due to lack of regeneration, but often have neighbouring plantations of Scots pine. We do not know enough about how pristine woodlands function, how the functioning of the plantations differs from the native woodlands, nor, in the case of the Oakwoods, how successful restoration efforts have been.

We focus on assessing the change in ecosystem properties when plantations are established on ancient woodland sites, and how successful restoration is to restore these sites. We also examine the biodiversity associated with the woodlands across several trophic levels and kingdoms, focusing on non-vascular plants and lichenised fungi above ground and the myriad of organisms below ground.

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