Woodland creation and ecological networks


WrEN (Woodland creation and Ecological Networks project) studies the relative importance of alternative conservation actions to reconnect fragmented landscapes and create ecological networks.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are amongst the greatest threats to biological diversity. Current conservation actions to reconnect fragmented landscapes include creating new habitat patches, expanding, connecting and restoring existing patches, and increasing the permeability of the surrounding matrix habitat in order to develop functional ‘ecological networks’. These can be described as a suite of core habitat areas connected by buffer zones, corridors and smaller ‘stepping stones’ that allow species or their propagules to move between them. Although the ecological network concept is based on sound scientific principles, its merits are supported by limited empirical data and, as a result, there is much uncertainty on how to prioritise alternative actions (e.g. increasing habitat area vs. connectivity).

Woodland has been severely affected by habitat loss and remaining woodland is often highly fragmented and degraded, immersed in an agricultural matrix. In the UK, a long history of woodland fragmentation and creation (e.g. through woodland planting schemes) makes this the ideal habitat / landscape to represent the different components of ecological networks and evaluate the relative merit of each of these components (and of alternative conservation actions) for a range of woodland-dependent species. As part of WrEN, woodland patches of different character (e.g. age, size and degree of connectivity) are being surveyed for a range of woodland-dependent species to study how their abundance and diversity are influenced by woodland character and landscape context. WrEN aims to provide urgently needed scientific evidence to underpin conservation actions (such as woodland creation and restoration) and ensure that such actions are implemented in the most effective ways and areas to maximise the conservation outcomes.

WrEN is a partnership project between the University of Stirling, Forest Research, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Forest Company. We are constantly looking for enthusiastic volunteers and BSc/MSc students searching for dissertation projects. If you want to get involved please get in touch.

For a full project description go to the official WrEN website.

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