Foreign trees more a threat than grazing

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Scotland’s native woods will miss Biodiversity targets for 2020 unless urgent action is taken to address non-native tree species in the country’s forests.

That is the lesson of new analysis claiming a multi-million pound study into Scotland’s native woods down-played the threat of non-native trees, focusing chiefly on deer damage.

The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, undertaken by Forestry Commission Scotland and heavily analysed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), was hailed as Scotland’s most authoritative stock-take of native forests.

It concluded 54 per cent were in unsatisfactory condition, the principal cause being ‘excessive browsing and grazing’, mainly by deer, which impacted 33 per cent of the total.

The announcement led to environmental groups angrily rounding on sporting estates for keeping deer numbers high for deerstalking, damaging the environment as a result.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham will now decide in 2017 whether tougher laws are required to force deer managers to meet strict cull plans, with 2020 Biodiversity targets pivotal.

However, new analysis, published in the Scottish Forestry journal, claims thousands of hectares of ancient woodlands, classed unsatisfactory due to exotic tree planting, were omitted from the survey, despite being assessed.

Had 39,000 hectares of Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) been included in the final draft, the percentage of woods impacted by non-native trees would have outnumbered those damaged by deer and livestock.

That has led to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association to call for an end to ‘tunnel vision’, claiming all factors affecting woodland condition should be considered – not just deer.

The author of the new analysis, Victor Clements, also an Executive Member of the Association of Deer Management Groups, noticed discrepancies whilst preparing deer plans and had his figures independently verified.

Writing in the latest edition of Scottish Forestry magazine, he says: “An initial draft revealed an important sub-set of our native woodlands were not actually included in the main report though available for mapping purposes.

“When the PAWS area is added, it becomes apparent the greatest threat (to native woodlands) in terms of area, is actually non-native tree species, not herbivore impacts, although the order of magnitude is broadly the same.

“This means the narrative surrounding the launch of the report is not actually correct.

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Taylor Wimpey have confirmed directly with local Councillor Nathan Wilson that the organisation retains its commitment to building a park and ride at Shieldmuir Train Station. In response to recent enquiries made by Councillor Wilson, Taylor Wimpey have advised that engagement is taking place with Network Rail over the latter’s approval procedures and that once this process is complete, work will be able to begin on site. The developer has informed the Motherwell Councillor that during the period of investigation undertaken since the commencement of building work was delayed in January 2018, an unrecorded service chamber has been discovered on site. The project cannot move forward until further clarification is provided on the nature of the service chamber and Taylor Wimpey are in the process of commissioning a contractor to assess the situation. The developer’s initial judgement is that this is likely a redundant service. A senior representative of the organisation has also informed Councillor Wilson that a member of the Taylor Wimpey production team will be sent out to inspect the vacant land following a request he made at the beginning of 2019 for maintenance work to be carried out on site should construction of the park and ride remain some time away. Councillor Nathan Wilson said: “Taylor Wimpey have communicated to me directly that the park and ride facility is a project that the organisation remains committed to delivering. “However, it goes without saying that the lengthy delay is still very disappointing and frustrating. “An unrecorded service chamber has been identified on site and progress is unable to be made until this has been investigated. “Taylor Wimpey have relayed to me that an on-site inspection of the vacant land will take place and I hold to the view that maintenance work should be carried out in the short term to improve it’s current condition. “I will continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders and re-inforce to them the importance of the park and ride project locally. Motherwell and Wishaw CAB takes home 40 per cent of the prizes

“Herbivore impacts are not the most significant issue affecting native woodlands at all, although their effects are not denied in many cases. A more appropriate narrative would be that we have a number of issues impacting on native woodlands in Scotland, with non-native species and herbivore impacts being the most important, in almost equal measure.”

Adding the excluded woodlands to the survey would have meant the area impacted by exotic trees would have been 117,342 hectares compared to 112,383 grazed by sheep and deer.

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “Even without the omitted 39,000 hectares, non-native trees impact 77,000 hectares of native woodland in Scotland. This won’t go away because it is one of the key criteria determining whether woodlands are satisfactory or not.

“If native woodlands are to meet 2020 Biodiversity targets, focusing on one issue, deer, won’t work in isolation. Something has to be done about the amount of exotic species such as Sitka Spruce and other conifers on these sites, although this seems to be of little concern.

“At some point, a wider view has to be taken addressing all issues in the round.”