Information and Advsiory Note Number 60, January 1997
1.1 Scotland, like most of Europe, was once a heavily wooded country with woodlands and forests covering from 50-75% of the land area. Climate and land use changes over the past two thousand years mean that we now have a very limited forest cover (approximately 12% of the total land area including plantation forests). This is low even when compared to other European countries which average between 20 and 30% cover. Our semi-natural woodland in particular, has been reduced to small, generally isolated fragments. This in turn, has contributed to the disappearance of a number of forest species, increasing ecological isolation of the remaining woodlands and a reduction in local biodiversity. Further areas of planting and natural regeneration should therefore be targeted at reversing this trend, thereby increasing species habitat, and enhancing landscape quality.
1.2 Current government policy is to continue to expand the forest resource, especially the area under native woodland. To help guide this expansion, SNH recently produced “A forest habitat network for Scotland” (Peterken et al., 1995). This examines the limited and isolated remnants of Scotland’s natural woodland and considers the desirability of developing a forest habitat network which would enlarge and re-connect existing woods thereby increasing overall biodiversity.
1.3 Peterken et al. identify the principal elements of the network, namely: large scale patches of forest where up to 30% of the land may be wooded (termed core forest areas); linear forest habitats which would link the larger areas of woodland and; new or recreated habitats managed within this matrix to reinforce the network. Within the report they propose that some urban areas, with a high proportion of tree cover, could function as nodes or even as core forest areas.
1.4 To investigate whether urban areas could function as part of the forest habitat network, SNH commissioned Karen Chambers Associates to undertake research on the concept of urban forest areas in Scotland. This research was part of the Sustainable City programme, a joint initiative by SNH and Scottish Enterprise.
2.1 The report by Peterken et al. identifies the characteristics of a rural core forest area; at least 30% woodland cover; provide the range required by an indigenous woodland species (e.g. breeding population of capercaillie) and a predominantly forest environment with a substantial proportion of internal forest landscape (e.g. the bulk of a day’s walking would take place in woodland). It might also produce sufficient timber to sustain a small sawmill.
2.2 Rural areas which satisfy these criteria include Glen Affric and Deeside. However, Peterken et al. also propose that:
“we must also consider the main urban centres as core forest areas. … urban areas share with large forests a scatter of large trees, substantial areas of mixed woodland, scrub and herbaceous vegetation and freedom from grazing and ploughing. Many woodland species have moved in. … from deciduous woodland and many garden weeds originated in forest clearings. In any case, a forest network is intended to benefit recreation and it is important to link it with the main centres of population.”
2.3 Within a national network of woods and forests, urban areas offer a role as significant core areas. Many of the older residential neighbourhoods, such as Kings Park in Glasgow or the Grange or Momingside in Edinburgh, have a significant cover of trees, and the rich mixture of municipal grasslands, intensively managed private gardens, churchyards, surviving relics of captive rural woodland, and extensive ‘amenity planting’ constitutes a community of plants and animals which is extremely biodiverse.
2.4 Trees are also visible symbols of ‘greening’ and to many people have come to represent a focal point for environmental awareness, conservation and action. The function of the urban forest, and the concentration of people within it, places a significant focus on urban areas as key points, or nodes, in the development of a habitat network. Their importance merits consideration as core forest areas.
3.1 While the key goal of the forest habitat network is to enhance connectivity and consequently ecological diversity, the development of a larger woodland resource would also have significant economic, social and environmental impacts. The report by Chambers et al. encompasses an extensive review of the urban forest as a landscape feature, an educational and recreation resource, as a mechanism for uniting communities and as an economic resource. The report provides a wealth of information on:
4.1 Given the physical nature of urban areas, increasing the numbers of trees for such purposes as recreation or screening will almost certainly result in the natural development of a network of corridors (along pedestrian ways, streets, transport and river corridors), and patches (parks and other open space). Within the limited knowledge currently available on the benefits of what are likely to be quite narrow links and small patches, there is almost certain to be some increase in habitat value.
4.2 Chambers et al. conclude that there are few instances where development of the social benefits of the woodland resource will be severely at odds with the development of habitat value, but understanding and sensitivity will be needed. However, adequate knowledge and guidelines are lacking, particularly in relation to the management of urban woodland habitats in Scotland.
5.1 The quality of management of the urban tree resource varies considerably across Scotland and threats to this in terms of road and buildings, underground cabling, vandalism, poor irrigation and neglect are ever present. Recent studies have concluded that:
5.2 Improving the management of the urban forest is not straightforward. On average, over half the urban tree resource is privately owned and control by the public sector does not itself ensure appropriate management. The relatively low status of the tree resource in the competition for limited resources, short term funding cycle and the negative impacts of CCT within public sector organisations all inhibit effective and strategic management of urban woodlands.
5.3 Better trained managers with skills in ecology, landscape architecture, timber marketing and community liaison are required. Similarly, contractors should have more ecological training. Improvements to the skills base within the landscape profession are currently in hand, with Scottish Enterprise working with the British Association of Landscapelndustry to provide vocational training across the industry.
The forest habitat network can only be sustained by working with a wide range of partners, with strategic underpinning from the planning system and appropriate funding through the Woodland Grant Scheme and other financial mechanisms.
6.1 Despite its lack of control over forestry woodland planting and most felling, the planning system has a role to play in the development and protection of a woodland network. Although Indicative Forestry Strategies have had a degree of influence in rural areas, planning policy appears to be unable to secure locational opportunities for increased planting or for the protection of urban and urban fringe trees and woodlands. While Section 50 agreements and conditions attached to planning permissions are used to secure land for planting, the report concludes that better development control, monitoring and enforcement are also required.
6.2 There is at present insufficient guidance within the Scottish planning system in relation to urban habitat development and protection. The production of national planning guidance on natural heritage which included sections on the forest habitat network, may be one mechanism to fill this gap. Planners also need a better understanding of ecological processes if the boundaries of corridors and the composition and sizes of stepping stones are to become key components of the planning system. Given the introduction of a plan led system, development plans may play an increasingly crucial role in the creation of the forest habitat network.
6.3 The provision of adequate financial incentives through the Woodland Grant Scheme or taxation will perhaps have a greater role than the planning system in actually creating and the sustaining the urban forest. While there are already existing mechanisms such as the Community Woodland Supplement which take into account the multi-benefit nature of urban forestry (particularly in relation to access) there are clear opportunities for refinements to the incentive system. The WGS is continually being adapted and refined and the multi-benefits of urban forestry may become an increasing priority. Other legislative changes such as the introduction of the landfill tax in October 1996 may have implications on the amount of money available for urban forestry.
6.4 Creating partnerships with those with responsibility spanning the urban fringe will be necessary to develop the network further. To an extent, the Countryside Around Towns network, which is part-funded by SNH, can help to fulfil this role and it will be important to ensure that the momentum gained to date is not lost. These Partnerships should not be restricted simply to inter-agency working arrangements, but need to include local communities as well.
6.5 Given that forestry and woodlands are unlikely to be brought within the planning system, strategies for urban and inter-urban forestry, based on appropriate surveys, will be needed for the development of woodland networks. Information on the quality of the urban woodland resource is, however, currently of variable quality and held by a variety of statutory and non-statutory bodies, Co-ordination of information and research is obviously required to maximise the efficiency of what are generally limited resources.
7.1 The main aim of establishing a forest habitat network is to help in securing a sustainable future for Scotland’s natural heritage, by expanding the overall woodland area in a strategic manner. There are clearly opportunities for Scotland’s towns and cities to play a role in the forest habitat network; if not as core forest areas then as stepping stones or corridors to other, larger areas of forestry and woodland. Strategic planning in the location of our woodland resource will be the key to developing the connectivity of the forest habitat network.
7.2 By providing a strategic framework for urban forestry, the concept of the forest habitat network may give greater weight and status to urban forests while appropriate promotion may be able to bring it onto the main political agenda. Chambers et al. argue that there are a series of actions which could be taken to raise the profile of the forest habitat network:
7.3 Once the concept is accepted as a part of the overall strategy for sustainable
development, various other actions will follow including;
Baines C., 1995. The Way Forward in Proceedings of the Third UK Urban Forestry Conference Forestry Commission.
Chambers et al., 1995. “Sustainable City: urban core forest areas” Unpublished SNH report.
FRCC (Forestry Research Co-ordination Committee) 1988. Report of the Review Group on Arboriculture.
Peterken G.F., Baldock D. and Hampson A., 1995. “A forest habitat network for Scotland” SNH Research, Survey and Monitoring Report No. 44. SNH, Battleby.