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Recent patterns of change in vegetation structure and tree composition of British broadleaved woodland: evidence from large-scale surveys

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  • Biology
  • Ecology


Evidence is presented of widespread changes in structure and species composition between the 1980s and 2003–2004 from surveys of 249 British broadleaved woodlands. Structural components examined include canopy cover, vertical vegetation profiles, field-layer cover and deadwood abundance. Woods were located in 13 geographical localities and the patterns of change were examined for each locality as well as across all woods. Changes were not uniform throughout the localities; overall, there were significant decreases in canopy cover and increases in sub-canopy (2–10 m) cover. Changes in 0.5–2 m vegetation cover showed strong geographic patterns, increasing in western localities, but declining or showing no change in eastern localities. There were significant increases in canopy ash Fraxinus excelsior and decreases in oak Quercus robur/petraea. Shrub layer ash and honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum increased while birch Betula spp. hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and hazel Corylus avellana declined. Within the field layer, both bracken Pteridium aquilinum and herbs increased. Overall, deadwood generally increased. Changes were consistent with reductions in active woodland management and changes in grazing and browsing pressure. These findings have important implications for sustainable active management of British broadleaved woodlands to meet silvicultural and biodiversity objectives.

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