Developing lowland habitat networks in Scotland

Photo of Isle of Tiree study areaBackground

The development of habitat networks is seen as an important mechanism for reversing the effects of fragmentation on biodiversity while delivering a range of other environmental benefits such as creating more opportunities for public access and recreational enjoyment of the countryside.  In the Scottish lowlands, there is a desire to develop a more integrated approach to planning land-use change and incentives which takes account of conservation objectives for the full suite of habitats and species associated with different types of land use.

Review of approaches

In 2004/05, Forest Research joined forces with Forestry Commission Scotland and the Scottish Agricultural College (Auchincruive) to carry out a desk-based review of approaches to developing lowland habitat networks.  The review was funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD).

A review of approaches to developing Lowland Habitat Networks in Scotland (PDF-3016K)

The review recommended testing the usefulness of the focal species method used within Forest Research's suite of tools called BEETLE (Biological and Environmental Tools for Landscape Ecology) for evaluating the consequences of land use change for biodiversity and informing the development and targeting of agri-environment incentives.

Using focal species approach to modelling

Map showing lowland habitat networks study areas in Scotland
Study areas

Planning for Lowland Habitat Networks in Scotland: a landscape-scale approach (PDF-1629K)
Synopsis of the full report (below).

Developing Lowland Habitat Networks in Scotland (PDF-3207K)
Full report.

This approach to modelling was tested in four case study areas (see map) in lowland Scotland with contrasting patterns of land use and conservation objectives:

  • Isle of Tiree (pictured above)
  • East Fife
  • Strathspey
  • Irvine catchment in Ayrshire.

Further application of this methodology has now been used to develop Integrated Habitat Networks for Glasgow and the Clyde Valley and for Falkirk Unitary Authority.

Red squirrel population in Fife

A map of the Fife study area is shown below.  In consultation with end-users, priority species groups for scenario modelling were identified.

Map of East Neuk of Fife study area
Enlarge map
East Neuk of Fife study area
Map of existing red and grey squirrel habitat networks in Fife study area
Enlarge map
Existing red and grey squirrel habitat networks in Fife study area

One of the major issues of concern is the survival of the red squirrel population in Fife and how existing red squirrel networks might be strengthened against the rampaging grey squirrel.

Corn Bunting
Photo source: Defra

The exciting challenge is to cater for the needs of red squirrels (essentially conifer forests) while also addressing other high priorities for conservation such as maintaining semi-natural species-rich grassland networks and fields of winter stubble for corn buntings (right).

Landscape and recreational impacts

We also investigated ways of combining ecological network analyses with assessments of landscape character and recreational impacts to develop a set of decision support tools accessible to end-users involved in the strategic planning of landuse change.

Funding was from a partnership of SNH, SEERAD and Forestry Commission Scotland.

For further information contact:

Mike Smith
Forest Research
Northern Research Station
Midlothain EH25 9SY

Tel: 0131 445 2176
Fax: 0131 445 5124