The Landscape Ecological Impact of Afforestation on the British Uplands and Some Initiatives to Restore Native Woodland Cover

Robert G. H. Bunce 1 , Claire M. Wood 2 , Simon M. Smart 2 , Rachel Oakley 3 , Gareth Browning 4 , Mike J. Daniels 5 , Philip Ashmole 6 , John Cresswell 7  and Kate Holl 8
  • 1 Estonian University of Life Sciences, Kreuzwaldi 1, 51014 Tartu, ESTONIA
  • 2 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre, Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4AP, UK
  • 3 National Trust, Bowe Barn, Borrowdale Road, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5UP, UK
  • 4 Forestry Commission, Peil Wyke, Bassenthwaite Lake, Cockermouth, Cumbria, CA13 9YG, UK
  • 5 John Muir Trust, Tower House, Station Road, Pitlochry, PH1 6 5AN, UK
  • 6 Borders Forest Trust, Monteviot Nurseries, Ancrum, Jedburgh, TD8 6TU, UK
  • 7 College Valley Estates Ltd, Estate Office, Hethpool, Kirknewton, Wooler, NE71 6TW, UK
  • 8 Scottish Natural Heritage, Silvan House, 3rd Floor East, 231 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, EH12 7AT, UK


The majority of forest cover in the British Uplands had been lost by the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, because of felling followed by overgrazing by sheep and deer. The situation remained unchanged until a government policy of afforestation, mainly by exotic conifers, after the First World War up to the present day. This paper analyses the distribution of these predominantly coniferous plantations, and shows how they occupy specific parts of upland landscapes in different zones throughout Britain Whilst some landscapes are dominated by these new forests, elsewhere the blocks of trees are more localised. Although these forests virtually eliminate native ground vegetation, except in rides and unplanted land, the major negative impacts are at the landscape level. For example, drainage systems are altered and ancient cultural landscape patterns are destroyed. These impacts are summarised and possible ways of amelioration are discussed. By contrast, in recent years, a series of projects have been set up to restore native forest cover, as opposed to the extensive plantations of exotic species. Accordingly, the paper then provides three examples of such initiatives designed to restore native forests to otherwise bare landscapes, as well as setting them into a policy context. Whilst such projects cover a limited proportion of the British Uplands they nevertheless restore forest to landscapes at a local level.

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