Ecologist, Dr Jacqueline Weir, explains how The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit website has been developed in partnership with other organisations and experts to provide location specific advice and guidance to woodland owners, managers and advisers.

In the UK, a long history of woodland management for fuel and timber, as well as animal fodder and shelter, has meant that plant and animal species have adapted to the habitats created through management. Many woodlands are now relatively small and isolated following centuries of clearance, so natural processes (including the actions of extinct species) no longer produce the variety of vegetation structures needed by specialist woodland species across a landscape. This can particularly be the case on farmland where woodland often comprises a relatively small proportion of the landholding. Woods that have previously been managed, but where management has ceased, have become even aged and dark, shading out plants on the woodland floor. Decaying wood, a hugely important resource in woodlands for soil formation, invertebrates, fungi, bats and birds, is often sparse. Woodland management can be targeted to replicate natural structures and benefit particular declining species, depending on the location and type of woodland. But it can be difficult to know which species are in a particular area, and which might benefit from different forms of management.

The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit was designed to address this issue, and provides an online tool for woodland owners, managers, advisers, commercial foresters, or anyone interested in managing woodland. A critical feature is that it tailors the guidance to the location and type of your wood. It contains comprehensive guidance on management of woodlands for wildlife, and factsheets on declining woodland species. The species included in the toolkit are generally those with a declining population trend, that are likely to benefit from targeted management. The toolkit is not a replacement for expert woodland management advice, but it provides access to a wealth of knowledge from numerous wildlife specialists, drawn into one place, as well as links to other sources of information.

The ‘woodland guidance’ tab of the toolkit provides a drop-down menu with information on woodland types, habitats and management techniques, essentially providing an online handbook on woodland management for wildlife. This includes some information on creation of new woodland. We have plans to expand and increase the prominence of the woodland creation section, given current national ambitions and targets to increase woodland cover, which needs to be done in a way to maximise benefits for wildlife and avoid harm to existing habitats.

The main ‘tool’ within the toolkit is an interactive map, on which a user can locate their specific woodland site. It currently covers England, Scotland and Wales, with ambition to add Northern Ireland in the near future. By selecting a general woodland type (such as broadleaved woodland, wet woodland, or ‘any woodland type’), and clicking on the location of their wood, they can bring up a list of the priority species likely to be in their local area, which should benefit from tailored habitat management. They receive a link to a factsheet for each relevant species, detailing its favoured habitat conditions and relevant woodland management techniques. The species factsheets (for example Hawfinch) can be found and downloaded here.

The user also receives a summary table of the types of management likely to be relevant to their wood across all species in their list, and a worked example of how different species needs might be catered for within one site. The user can then refer back to the relevant section of the toolkit to find more details on each habitat management technique if needed. New case studies will continue to be added for further reference, illustrating how woodland management for wildlife can fit alongside other aims and objectives for a particular site, or across a landscape.

The toolkit site also includes a tab containing a ‘condition assessment’ developed by Forestry Commission, Forest Research, Natural England and the Woodland Trust, which guides the user through an on-site assessment of their wood. A further tab contains information on developing management plans for woodlands, with links to Forestry Commission management plan templates for England and Scotland. A link to a Natural Resources Wales template should be coming soon too. This page also provides a link to the myForest web tool developed by Sylva Foundation that helps woodland owners and managers map, store data, and create management plans for their woodlands.

The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit is an innovative way of guiding woodland owners or managers and their advisers through habitat management for wildlife, specific to their own site. By using each tab of the toolkit they can go on a journey from discovering which species might be in their woodland, all the way through to developing a management plan, which can then be useful in applying for government grants to help with management. The toolkit came about through close working between a number of organisations and a launch event was held in 2019, with attendees from government, the forestry industry, private landowners and the conservation sector. Response to the toolkit so far has been positive and we would love to see it become even more widely used. We would welcome woodland owners, managers, advisers and foresters to use the toolkit and provide us with feedback on how useful it is in informing management. A feedback button is available on the toolkit website.

The Woodland Wildlife Toolkit was developed by a partnership of Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Plantlife, RSPB, Sylva Foundation and Woodland Trust; with input also from other experts. Funding has come from the Woodland Trust and RSPB.