Livestock browsing behavior is a primary determinant of the extension and linkage of fragmented UK upland oak woodlands also known as ‘temperate rainforest,’ according to environmental scientists and ecologists at the University of Plymouth. 

There is widespread agreement that expanding woodlands could be among the most effective ways to combat climate change. However, new research shows that the rate of growth required to meet UK goals for tree production is unlikely to be accomplished by only natural sources.

Temperate Rainforest: Solutions in the Fight Against Climate Change

Livestock browsing behavior is a primary determinant of the extension and linkage of fragmented UK upland oak woodlands also known as ‘temperate rainforests,’ according to environmental scientists and ecologists at the University of Plymouth. 

The study indicated that the presence of animals resulted in substantially fewer oak saplings surviving on Dartmoor in South West England. Saplings that did survive were smaller and in bad condition, and they seldom lasted past the age of eight without protection. 

The study looked at the natural regeneration of oak saplings away from oak woods or on Dartmoor, and found that native oak establishment was mostly limited to within 20 meters of the nearest adult tree, as per Eurekalert. 

According to the researchers, this degree of natural expansion is insufficient to enhance carbon storage, flood mitigation, and biodiversity provision at the rate or scale required in these highland ecosystems.

Instead, they recommend strategically targeted interventions and selective planting in certain vegetation types to determine whether tree guards and other forms of protection, such as fences, are required. 

They claim that this might be utilized to increase the environmental sensitivity of planting initiatives in protected environments like Dartmoor and other National Parks while lowering their visual impact. 

Promoting Afforestation 

As part of his PhD, Dr. Thomas Murphy, who is currently an Industrial Research Fellow on the University’s Low Carbon Devon project, led the research. According to Murphy, tree planting and halting deforestation are increasingly being promoted as low-cost, environmentally friendly ways to address climate change.

These steps have been incorporated into the net-zero agendas of the United Kingdom and other nations, with world leaders promising to address the issue at COP26 in Glasgow last year. 

However, this findings show that incorporating oak forest into UK upland grazing systems is not an easy task. 

Although they perform an important function, these critical temperate rainforest have been historically degraded and are now severely fragmented. Reversing this tendency will certainly necessitate intentional planting and knowledgeable livestock management, according to Science Daily. 

Getting this properly, on the other hand, will necessitate a careful balancing act and tight collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, particularly landowners and graziers, at a time when upland farms are under tremendous financial stress and incentives are always changing.

Recommendations for Landowners and Policymaker

The findings were published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence, a publication of the British Ecological Society, and include a list of recommendations for landowners and policymakers, including: 

  • Livestock grazing (especially cattle) near adult native oak trees at the fringe of forests should be promoted since it reduces thick and competing vegetation. 

  • To increase sapling survival, growth, and establishment on locations where oak seedlings and saplings (1-3 years) have colonized, cattle should be excluded for a minimum of 12 years. 

  • Strategic planting and grazing management schemes should be supported on upland valley slopes where existing ecosystem service provision is poor and forest development is required for connecting woodland habitat and quick soil hydrological recovery. 

  • Oak saplings that are older and larger (4-7 years) could be planted directly in regions where extensive vegetation protects saplings from cattle. 

The same research team has previously demonstrated that the planting of native woods in upland locations can help avoid flash flooding, which has become increasingly common in the UK in recent years. 

Source: Nature World News

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