September 13, 2008

Environment: Improving Habitat for Woodland Birds

A GRANT scheme - the first of its kind in England - is being launched today in a bid to help declining woodland bird species in the North East.

The Forestry Commission in partnership with the RSPB is offering financial support to landowners and managers to improve the habitat for 14 vulnerable species, including redstart, tree pipit, spotted flycatcher and marsh tit.

The UK's woodland bird population has fallen by 20% in the last 25 years.

Some species, such as the lesser redpoll and willow tit, have crashed by more than 50% since the late 1960s.

It is thought that much of the decline is due to changes in the structure of woodlands, such as the age and diversity of tree species, and long-term under-management.

Measures which could be funded under the new scheme will include preserving dead trees to provide natural nest sites, coppicing, controlling grazing levels and creating glades and scrubby areas favoured by many species.

Underpinning the initiative is the Bird Conservation Targeting Project, a mapping scheme involving the Forestry Commission, RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and Natural England which has identified breeding "hotspots" within the region for certain species.

These locations will be used in determining grant eligibility and to target help where it is most likely to produce results.

Colin Grayson, from the Forestry Commission, says: "Woodland birds are an evocative part of our wildlife and we must do all we can to tackle the chief factors behind such a worrying decline in numbers.

These include the under-management of many of our woods in the North East."

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