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Woodland creation and ecological networks: Quantifying the relative importance of different attributes on biodiversity (Phase 2) - LM0315

Description
This project will provide empirical evidence on the relative importance to biodiversity of site and landscape attributes associated with created woodland habitat in lowland agricultural landscapes. The new agri-environment scheme will provide a mechanism for delivering woodland creation and this evidence will underpin the advice provided to landowners and farmers on how to most effectively deliver and contribute to functioning ecological networks. The evidence from this project, in the form of a report and briefing notes, will help to identify which conservation actions particularly through the new agri-environment scheme would be most effective for different species and how these actions should be targeted at site and landscape level. The project will also seek to inform how these principles could be developed for scoring applications for woodland-related activities under the new scheme. Ecological networks and landscape-scale action are referred to explicitly in many of the commitments and targets in both the Natural Environment White Paper (Defra 2011a) and the Biodiversity 2020 conservation strategy (Defra 2011b), as well as in the recent report by the Independent Panel on Forestry (2012). The NEWP specifically refers to the contribution that agri-environment can make towards ecological restoration at a landscape scale. One of the objectives of the Sustainable Land and Soils Evidence Programme is to ‘Ensure that the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme continues to improve the environmental performance of farming, particularly through the development of improved agri-environment schemes and the incorporation of landscape scale options’.

Following a very successful field season near Stirling in 2013 (“Phase One” of the project: “The provision of research services on ‘woodland creation and ecological networks – LM0313”), and some promising early results, a second year of field surveys will be conducted in spring and summer 2014 in the existing study area and a new area around Leicester in central England. This work will increase the robustness of the evidence base on which conclusions will be drawn by increasing the number of sampling sites and range of taxa surveyed and through the undertaking of more complex data analysis. Sites have been chosen to encompass a wide variation in both site and landscape attributes in order for their relative importance to biodiversity to be quantified.
Objective
There are two distinct stages of work to be completed:

Stage 1 - Fieldwork in 2014

Objectives:

1. Complete a robust survey of a wide range of woodland species groups, to obtain a sufficient sample of species with different life histories, habitat requirements and dispersal abilities. This will be completed by September 2014 for most species; by December 2014 for species that do not need to be sampled during the warmer months (e.g. lichens).

Outputs: Collection of data on the relative abundance and species diversity for a range of taxa. Data will consist in a variety of forms including pitfall trap samples, written records of small mammal captures, acoustic recordings of bat calls. These will be carefully catalogued and analysed in the second stage of the project.

Stage 2 - Analysis (2015 and early 2016)

Objectives:

2. Identify, to an appropriate level, taxonomic groups from all data collected in 2014; to be completed by February 2015.
3. Collate all data and complete an initial summary of field survey data from 2014, combined with existing data from 2013, with simple descriptive statistics on the numbers of species and relative abundance across sites; to be completed by April 2015.
4. Further targeted surveys of additional species groups in spring/early summer 2015; by July 2015.
5. Complete full and detailed statistical analysis of all data collected (2013, 2014, 2015); by January 2016.
6. Summarise and communicate the findings as detailed below
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2014

To: 2015

Cost: £91,417
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University of Stirling
Keywords