Habitat Action Plan: Conifer Woodland

By | August 7, 2008

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1 Current status
1.1 National
Approximately 7% (1.5 million hectares) of Great Britain is covered by conifer
woodland. Ownership is evenly split between Forest Enterprise and the private sector.
Stands are usually single species with some 40% being Sitka Spruce. However mixed
plantations are common at the forest scale and older thinned stands often develop an
under storey of native trees and shrubs particularly at the edges or in glades. Apart
from areas of Caledonian Scots pine forest all conifer woodland in Britain is of
plantation origin, commonly comprising introduced North American conifers such as
spruce, fir and hemlock.
During the 20th Century many coniferous woods have been planted on areas which
had significant biodiversity value as other habitats or ancient semi-natural woodland.
The latter are known as PAWS (plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites). In these
instances restoration to the former habitat is the preferred option.
Many plantation forests are reaching harvestable age. This provides opportunities to
restructure the habitat leading to wildlife diversification. Examples being the creation
and extension of rides and glades and other habitats.
Although mature conifer plantations support fewer birds and mammals than broadleaved
woodlands they do support priority species such as Goshawk, Crossbill, and
Red Squirrel. Others such as Nightjar and Woodlark are associated with the
regenerative phases of conifer woodland development.

1.2 Local
In North West England extensive conifer forests are present in the uplands of north
Cumbria, the Lake District and the Forest of Bowland. Large blocks have been
planted in the lowlands of Cheshire at Delamere, on the mosslands in Lancashire and
Greater Manchester and on the Sefton Coast between Ainsdale and Formby.
The 1979/82 Woodland Census figure for Merseyside as a whole recorded 313ha of
coniferous high forest (currently being updated as part of FC National Woodland
Inventory) the majority being Corsican and Scots pine plantation on the Sefton Coast.
In 2007, an update of the 1996/7 survey of the Sefton Coast woodlands recorded
235ha of pure pine, 35ha of predominantly conifer mixed woodland and 20ha of
predominantly broadleaf mixed woodland.

Conifer plantations form part of the large estates including the Earl of Derby’s estate
in Knowsley. There are numerous conifer and mixed shelterbelts and coverts in the
open mossland landscapes north of the A580. These mossland woods are dominated
by pine species. Pine birch mixtures are typical of former acid peatland landscapes
prior to drainage and agricultural development.
The coastal pine woodlands are an important refuge for one of England’s remaining
populations of Red Squirrel.