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Action needed to save woodland wildflowers

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 05 9:15 am    Post subject: Action needed to save woodland wildflowers  Reply with quote    

Department for The Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (National)


Action is needed to help reverse the decline of many of Britain's best-loved woodland flowers, including the primrose, the nation's most extensive ecological woodland survey has found.

The study, Long term ecological change in British woodland (1971-2001), found that the number of plant species in 1648 specific plots in 103 native woods across England, Wales, and Scotland had declined by more than a third since they were first surveyed in 1971. Characteristic woodland plants like yellow archangel and sanicle fared worst, with 56 out of the 72 species becoming significantly less common.

Fifteen species of tree and shrub also showed a decline in numbers, along with a general fall in tree seedlings, though holly bucked the trend by spreading abundantly in many woods.

Biodiversity and Forestry Minister Jim Knight said the report did not seem to indicate a single cause for the decline in woodland flowers.

Instead, causes include:
* Woods becoming more shady due to ageing trees and inadequate woodland management;
* Increasing levels of nutrients in woodland soils due to atmospheric pollution and agricultural fertilisers, possibly accentuated by less acidic soils;
* The effects of climate change, with each species responding differently.

The survey shows that soils are recovering from the impact of acid rain, which was such a concern in the 1980s. Results also provided evidence that grazing pressure from deer had increased in lowland woods.

Mr Knight said that a number of government policies and programmes were already addressing the problems behind the decline.

"The Government's new policy for ancient woodland in England will help to address the decline by promoting sensitive management of our native and ancient woodlands to prevent problems like overshading," he said.

"Measures like creating buffer strips on farmland around woods, or adding to the woodland area could help to reduce the spread of nutrients into the wood from adjacent farmland and increase the habitat available for woodland species.

"However, while some plants may benefit from opening up woods, it could also enable some weedy species such as nettle and cleavers to become abundant - so careful, balanced management is essential."

Other agri-environment schemes and Forestry Commission initiatives, including reducing non-native trees and controlling livestock grazing in woodland, will help to reverse the decline in woodland wildflowers.

Mr Knight said partnerships like the Deer Initiative, a government-funded independent body that helps set up and develop local deer management groups and educates people about managing wild deer populations, were also achieving significant improvements woodland habitats.

The study was jointly commissioned by Defra, English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and conducted by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.


1. Copies of the report are available at:

2. The report is a re-survey and analysis of change based on the 103 sites identified by Professor Bob Bunce and first surveyed by the Nature Conservancy back in 1971 (to note this data was not published at the time as it was recorded for another purpose).

3. The Government launched a new policy for ancient and native woodland in England on 29 June 2005, which aims to protect and promote these woodlands to ensure sustainable management and increased benefits to society. Copies of the policy are available at http://www.forestry.gov.uk/news or contact Simon Pryor on 0777 197 4895 for further information.

4. The Woodland Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity, with 300,000 members and supporters. The Trust has four key aims: no further loss of ancient woodland; restoring and improving the biodiversity of woods; increasing new native woodland; and increasing people's understanding and enjoyment of woodland. Established in 1972, the Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care, covering approximately 20,000 hectares. Access to its sites is free. Further information is available at http://www.woodland-trust.org.uk.

5. English Nature is the Government's agency that champions the conservation of wildlife and geology throughout England.

6. Following publication of the draft Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill in February, English Nature, the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency's Landscape, Access and Recreation division are working towards integration as a single body: Natural England. It will work for people, places and nature with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas; promoting access, recreation and public wellbeing, and contributing to the way natural resources are managed so they can be enjoyed now and for future generations. For more information please contact the press office on 01733 455190, out of hours 07970 098005 or email press@english-nature.org.uk

7. The Countryside Council for Wales champions the environment and landscapes of Wales and its coastal waters as sources of natural and cultural riches, as a foundation for economic and social activity, and as a place for leisure and learning opportunities. We aim to make the environment a valued part of everyone's life in Wales."

8. The Forestry Commission is the Government body responsible for woodland and forestry in Britain. For more information on their role, phone 0131 334 0303 or visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk.

9. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the forum through which the three country conservation agencies - the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage - deliver their statutory responsibilities for Great Britain as a whole, and internationally. These responsibilities contribute to sustaining and enriching biological diversity, enhancing geological features and sustaining natural systems. As well as a source of advice and knowledge for the public, JNCC is the Government's wildlife adviser, providing guidance on the development of policies for, or affecting, nature conservation. Increasingly, JNCC is implementing its national advisory functions on a United Kingdom basis, and is working closely with the Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland. The JNCC website can be found at http://www.jncc.gov.uk.

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