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Like broadleaved woodland the more structurally diverse and varied a conifer forest is, the more wildlife it can support. As the majority of coniferous forests are managed commercially through a well- established system, there can sometimes be limited opportunities to produce the small- scale mosaics that are valued by woodland birds. However, even within the constraints imposed by commercial management, conifer plantations can provide habitats for a range of species, including many priority species, eg black grouse, honey buzzard, tree pipit and lesser redpoll.

Management issues

Issue: temporary nature of resource – clearfells

Clearfells are normally only temporary in nature as conifers are replanted or allowed to regenerate naturally. Depending on rate of growth (>15 years), maturation of the restocks closes the gaps between the trees and the resulting shade and increase in needle density means that ground vegetation such as grasses and rush are choked out. Birds requiring an open habitat with little field layer or bare ground will not occupy the area once ground vegetation becomes rank.


  • Allow rough grass, rush and low scrub to establish in coupes, or parts of coupes to create permanent open space within the forest area. Grazing or browsing may need to be managed.

  • Plan for continuity of clearfells in the forestry block. Different species utilise different size and age blocks (see Table 17).

  • Retain scattered trees for song posts and raptor perches.

  • Retain deadwood, eg brash.

  • Scrape or scarify to expose bare, well- drained soil creating good foraging habitat.

  • Maintain open structure of field layer/ ground vegetation, eg by managing grazing.

  • Leave un-compacted lop and top in situ to provide shelter for nests, although this may conflict with requirements of

Managing woodland for birds

other species or other objectives of forest management, eg it can harbour rabbits in restock sites which can then be difficult to control.

Issue: temporary nature of resource – thicket stage

As the conifer crop grows (>15 years) the gaps close creating a dense thicket structure with a lack of ground vegetation. This habitat can be important (especially where climbing plants such as bramble, honeysuckle and traveller’s joy have become established). However, at the first thinning, this dense structure is lost, and further maturation results in loss of habitat for those preferring thicket-stage conifers, although this will also have benefits, as light penetration will encourage the development of the field layer.


  • Plan for continuity of restocks in the forestry mosaic.

  • Encourage scrub and climbing plants at the edge of the coupe, eg by planting or allowing natural regeneration of species such as blackthorn, hawthorn, traveller’s joy.

  • Create a buffer zone to provide an invertebrate and seed-rich grassland for foraging opportunities close to cover, eg scrub patches and thicket stage.

  • Manage grazing and browsing.

Issue: temporary nature of resource – pole stage and mature crops

As the timber reaches economic maturity, thinning and clearfelling becomes a necessary consideration. Commercial or

60–100 ha

Upland forests adjacent

Short-eared owl

to moorland

Black grouse

>10 ha



5–10 ha



2–5 ha



2–5 ha



1–5 ha


Tree pipit

Table 17 Extent of clearfells used by priority birds.


Extent of clearfell

Location of clearfell


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