First detailed map of Scotland’s native woodlands

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Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, today (Monday 3 February) unveiled Scotland’s first complete map and dataset of native woodlands – the result of an eight year Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS) carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland.

Thought to be the most comprehensive habitat survey project ever carried out in the UK and possibly the first example of its kind in Europe, the survey results include details on the location, type, extent, composition and condition of all native woodlands, and plantations on ancient woodland sites, over 0.5ha in size.

Speaking at the launch event, Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Environment and Climate Change said:

“This survey - unique in terms of its depth, scope and focus - has for the first time given us a detailed, authoritative picture of a vitally important element of Scotland’s ‘Natural Capital’.

“For example, the survey found that over 22.5 per cent (311,153ha) of Scotland’s forests are native woodland - with 42 per cent of these being in the Highlands - and that 46% of native woodland is in satisfactory condition for biodiversity. While we have no comparable historic data to compare with the survey, the survey findings suggest that over the past 40 years we have lost a significant amount of ancient woodland in the uplands, and the survey has shown that the most widespread threat to native woodland health and regeneration is excessive browsing and grazing, mainly by deer.

“Much has been done over the past 30 years to reverse centuries’ worth of damage but – clearly – there is still much to do. With the NWSS, we now have an invaluable tool to assist local authorities, NGOs, land owners and managers to work independently – and together - to more effectively focus resources on managing, maintaining, enhancing and expanding native woodlands across Scotland and we know that already, since the data were collected, a further 7,800 ha of native trees have been planted.

“Eight years in the making, this dataset is a remarkable achievement. I would encourage anyone involved in land and woodland management to make use of the NWSS data and consider ways of working with the Commission to develop further applications of it.”

This unique, free-to-access dataset can be used for a wide range of purposes – from informing national policy to more local, strategic uses, including:

• strategic planning for areas such as national parks, local authorities, river catchments or habitat networks;
• development planning and control;
• environmental assessments;
• targeting incentives for management;
• management planning for individual woodlands;
• assessing potential exposure to tree pests and disease threats

As well as being available in an online dataset and summarized in national, local and regional reports, the NWSS includes a series of general information films about native woodland types. Educational tools are being developed, which can be used in the Curriculum for Excellence (Levels 4 and 5) to teach the next generation about the biodiversity value of this environmental asset.

The Commission’s Biodiversity Policy Adviser, Gordon Patterson, who has overseen the delivery of the NWSS, said:

“The project gives us a firm evidence base for making decisions about managing this vital resource for the benefit of everyone. It can also be used to help predict and monitor the effects of pressures such as climate change.

“An example of the value of the data was when we made use of it in November 2012 to quickly identify where in Scotland there were ash areas that needed to be checked for the presence of Ash dieback. The fact that we completed that survey in a remarkable five days illustrates the value - and potential additional applications – of this information."

For more information about he NWSS – and to find out about training and access – visit

Additional Quotes:

Duncan Stone, SNH’s Land Use Policy and Advice Manager, said:

‘This survey is a terrific piece of work, the sustained effort of many people, and contains a lot of valuable information. The analysis showing loss and poor condition in some of these wonderful woods is a serious cause for concern, and emphasizes the need for a renewed effort from land managers and government  to reverse this decline.

“However, as well as illustrating some problems, the survey is itself part of the solution; it’s an enormously valuable tool to help us manage our native woodlands – for example, by helping to target support schemes or to plan land management changes in smarter ways.”

Notes to Editors
1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government's Environment & Forestry Directorate

2. There are reports for each of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, one over-arching national report and regional reports for national parks and the Central Scotland Green Network will be published shortly. NWSS data is freely available via the FCS website (including training courses), through SEWeb, which presents the data in a very user friendly graphical form through SEWeb (Spotfire).

3. The report is the culmination of the work of many people and thanks are accorded to organizations including Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest Research, RPS Group PLC, Haycock & Jay Associates, the Native Woodlands Partnership for Scotland, and the many surveyors who were out in all seasons and weather conditions.
4. Since the survey was completed a further 7,858ha of native woodland has been established.

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