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Habitat networks

Small fragmented woodlands within a hostile agricultural landscapeSummary

Despite considerable conservation effort at a site-based scale, research and monitoring has revealed the continuing decline of biodiversity. The decline is thought to be due to the effects of habitat fragmentation and a reduction in habitat quality, caused by edge effects associated with intensive land management. Habitat networks are intended to reverse this decline by linking and expanding habitats which are capable of sustaining a greater biodiversity.

There is potential for the creation of networks for most habitats and species.

Frequently asked questions about habitat networks

Initially, we have focussed on the recognition and development of forest and woodland habitat networks (FHN), as these have considerable biodiversity interest, and have undergone extreme fragmentation. In developing FHNs we have also recognised the need to consider non-woodland habitat and species, to avoid further fragmentation.

Recent work on Lowland Habitat Networks (LHN) has turned to open ground habitats.

Further research is now concentrating on an approach which will incorporate the development of an Integrated Habitat Network that will increase biodiversity in all habitats whilst providing valuable greenspace links for people.

The habitat network (HN) programme includes projects linked by the application of the BEETLE (Biological and Environmental Evaluation Tools for Landscape Ecology) suite of tools, developed within the Landscape Ecology programme. Each project has a common aim, to develop a HN which will be used to plan habitat and species protection, management, restoration and expansion at a landscape scale, with respect to other biodiversity interests. The work is underpinned by landscape ecology theory, in particular, island biogeography theory and metapopulation dynamics.

The projects are:

Research objectives

This programme has evolved in synergy with the scientific principles developed in the Landscape Ecology programme. The approach has been to use the Forest Research Habitat Network tool (based on an accumulated cost distance buffer model) to test the functional connectivity of woodland habitat for woodland focal species. This method is also used to assess the impact of landuse change scenarios on key focal species of locally important open habitats.

Each project has a common aim: to developed a plan, in the form of a set of maps, to guide the strategic protection, management, restoration and expansion of woodland habitats.

Funders and partners

This research programme is funded by:

Forestry Commission policy

Forestry Commission policy on FHNs originates from the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, from which followed the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) and the Resolution for the Conservation of Biodiversity in European Forests signed in Helsinki in 1993. In addition the UK Government developed the strategy "Biodiversity: the UK Action Plan" (UKBAP) and in 1995 published the UKBAP Species Action Plans, and Habitat Action Plans.

The Forestry Commission's Forestry Strategy Documents for the devolved countries of England, Scotland and Wales outline the threat of biodiversity loss from habitat fragmentation. In particular, the strategies for Scotland and Wales stress the need for woodland expansion in the form of FHNs, to protect woodland biodiversity.

Publication

Evaluating Biodiversity in Fragmented Landscapes: Principles (PDF-488K)
Forestry Commission Information Note 073

Status

  • Scottish Borders FHN - Pilot study demonstrating the impact of the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme rules and an initial exploration of focal species modelling, completed in 2003.
  • West Lothian FHN - A study completed in March 2004, which assessed the impact of Local Development Plans on fragmented Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland, and the potential for creating FHNs within the county.
  • Wales FHN - Phase 1 of the study was completed in December 2004. It comprised theoretical discussion of landscape structural patterns in Wales and defined the woodland habitat networks present. Completed in 2007.
  • Scotland FHN - Project which began with a national assessment of the ecological processes at the landscape scale. A particular focus of this work is the development of a plan to integrate the landscape needs of woodland and open habitat species. Completed in 2008.
  • Scotland LHN - Project testing the application of focal species modelling to the development of ecological networks in lowland agricultural landscapes. Completed in 2007.

Contacts

England & Wales

Kevin Watts

Scotland

Duncan Ray