The impact of afforestation on the British uplands

Bunce, R.G.H.; Smart, S.M.; Wood, C.M.. 2012 The impact of afforestation on the British uplands. In: 19th ialeUK Conference, Edinburgh, 4-6 Sept 2012. (Unpublished)

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Since WWI, British Government policy has supported forestry in order to build up a strategic reserve of timber. The resultant afforestation has led to the largest land use change in Europe involving a shift from agriculture to forestry and by observation is mainly in the uplands. Until recently the expansion has largely ignored biodiversity and landscape ecological issues although some attention has been paid to landscapes. The paper first considers the history of afforestation in Britain before examining its impact at the landscape level. Forest cover in Britain increased by a quarter between 1870 and 1947, but almost doubled between 1948 and 1995. The distribution also changed from the lowlands of England and Scotland to the uplands, especially in SW Scotland. The balance also shifted from native broad leaves to exotic conifers as expressed by the present dominance of Sitka Spruce. Figures available from Forestry Commission Reports show that the overall increase in woodland area after 1948 is almost linear until c.1994 when the rate of increase in conifer area slowed down whilst broad leaved planting increased in relative terms. Nevertheless, the conifer area still continued to increase even between 2008 and 2010. Conifer cover increased since 1948 by almost 400% whereas broadleaves have increased by only 25%. In 1948 there was more broadleaf than conifer but by 1973 the situation had reversed. Also conifers were mainly planted on open moorland whereas the core of broadleaves has remained much the same, although supplemented by recent planting in the lowlands. In the period after WW2 there was much conversion of broad leaves to conifers, although this has recently been reversed. All the above changes were driven by government policy. An analysis of the patterns of forest cover shows that Lowland England is dominated by broadleaves but still has a significant area of conifers because of the plantations of pine in the south. In Upland England there is twice as much conifer but this is a small area in comparison with Scotland. There are almost no conifers in Lowland Wales but the upland figure is similar to England. Scotland is dominated by plantations of conifers. In Scotland, one third of a million hectares are in the marginal uplands with about half a million in the true uplands. Under 1% of these are native pinewoods, the remainder are exotics. Conifer forest also occurs in relatively narrow altitudinal bands in different landscape types in Britain. Afforestation therefore mainly affects specific parts of the uplands and the national figure therefore underestimates its impact on local landscape ecology. Finally, conifer plantations cause almost complete loss of vegetation cover except for a few bryophytes. In conclusion, in the presented paper suggestions will be made as to how landscape ecology could ameliorate the situation.

Item Type: Publication - Conference Item (Paper)
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: UKCEH Fellows
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Conference titled 'Landscape ecology: linking environment and society'.
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Related URLs:
Date made live: 08 Apr 2013 13:40 +0 (UTC)

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