Glen Affric LSER case study

glen-affric-lser-mapKey facts

Partners: Forestry Commission Scotland; Trees for Life; Forest Research; Scottish Natural Heritage.

Extent: c.14,500ha

Habitats and species: Caledonian pine/birch woodland; heathland; montane; bog. Black grouse; red squirrel; golden eagle; juniper; black-throated diver; common scoter.

Duration: Began in 1960, work based on a 150-200 year vision.

Monitoring: Site condition monitoring, survey of species/habitats.

Introduction

Glen Affric, managed by the Forestry Commission since 1959, is the oldest ecosystem restoration project in Scotland.  It is now a major jewel in the crown of the National Forest Estate and has acted as inspiration for forest managers throughout Scotland.  Glen Affric was declared a National Nature Reserve (NNR) in 2001 and it also includes Special Protection Areas (SPA) for Black-throated diver, Common Scoter and Golden Eagle.

Restoration work and “business as usual” forestry existed alongside each other for many years, though now the emphasis is mainly on restoration, and Glen Affric has been the focus for sustained research into how ecological information can be better used in forest planning.

Work on regenerating the remnant native pinewoods started in the 1960s with large-scale fencing and deer culling to promote natural regeneration, and some areas of planting with local origin Scots pine plants. This early work has been very successful in creating a new generation of native pinewood over much of the site.

Aims and objectives

The Forest Design Plan for 2010-2019 for the area states: "The primary management aim in Glen Affric is to promote natural processes and foster a return to a more natural woodland”. The plan sets out a long-term vision of the desired forest structure for the next 150 - 200 years and identifies silvicultural options to achieve these aims, while maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and landscape values.

Open ground and woodland edge habitats are also important and will be managed / restored primarily using deer management, which will focus on attaining a balanced, sustainable deer population. Some timber production will continue, supporting local jobs.

Approach to restoration

The main aim of management is to gradually restore native woodland, by removing non-native trees and invasive shrubs. Plantations are also being restructured to give a more natural structure and species composition. Habitat networks are being developed both within the glen and with similar habitat on neighbouring ground; with woodland and open ground networks being integrated. Some tree planting has taken place and Trees for Life have had a programme of strengthening the representation of broadleaves such as aspen. FCS intends to restore the 'treeline transition zone', recreating habitat for plants, birds and insects that are currently rare in Scotland.

The site contains montane habitats, blanket bog, heathland, tall herb communities, mountain willow scrub and small patches of bog woodland.  The plan aims to bring deer populations into dynamic balance with their range, with suitable control measures carried out in partnership with the local Deer Management Groups, and with minimal use of fencing.

Key issues

Benefits and ecosystem services

The benefits sought by the project are mainly environmental, but tourism and local employment are also important.  Environmental benefits focus on establishing large, robust populations of woodland species and creating large-scale woodland habitat networks comprising both woodland and open habitats.  At the same time the existing biodiversity values of heathland and montane habitats are being enhanced.

Expertise

FCS at Glen Affric has useful experience and/or particular expertise in:

  • the development of forest plans with high quality ecological content, including management of open ground in forest plans;
  • gathering of ecological information for planning purposes and converting research outputs into management prescriptions;
  • collaborative working with an NGO (Trees for Life), Forest Research, SNH and deer management groups;
  • removal of large areas of non-native trees and restructuring of pine plantations for conservation benefit;
  • deer management and natural colonisation of pine and birch;
  • integrating timber harvesting with conservation management.
  • Trees For Life at Glen Affric has useful experience in:
  • working collaboratively with FCS under a formal agreement;
  • deploying volunteers to carry out survey work and tree planting.

Challenges

The main challenges faced are:

  • developing and implementing a new format of complex forest plan with a high volume and quality of ecological data;
  • understanding relative importance of different habitats and species and the various competing demands they have;
  • dealing with such a large landscape unit; this required splitting into sub units;
  • implementing deer management via the deer management plan.

Key lessons

Developing a forest plan which has high quality ecological information/prescriptions and integrates these with other interests (timber, recreation, local community) is hugely challenging. However progress has been made and the new format and procedures will be useful for others to follow.

There are difficult trade-offs to be made between the management requirements for different habitats and species; SNH’s input is useful to establish a hierarchy for these. It is possible to integrate ambitious management of open ground into a forest management plan. Working with Forest Research is very useful, but demands significant time to develop to management prescriptions. Management systems have to be robust enough to cope with changes of staff, so incoming staff can understand how decisions are made.