Almost 100 species of birds regularly use woodland and scrub in Britain. About 50 species are associated with closed-canopy woodland or scrub; 15 more use open scrub or young plantations as a typical habitat.

Crested tit at nestbox
© Forestry Commission

Some birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, treecreepers, large seed eaters (hawfinches), hole nesters, woodland birds of prey and woodland owls are tree dependent species for all or part of their life cycles; others just come and go. Small birds use conifers for feeding and roosting in the winter.

When plantations are poor in natural holes, nest boxes can prove very successful.

Whatever land management practice you carry out, some species will benefit and others will suffer. For example, when stands of conifers are felled to provide the raw material for paper and timber, felling large areas or coupes is vital to recolonisation by woodlarks or nightjars - but may not be the optimum if the management plan is to make an ideal habitat for warblers.

Planting of coniferous forest was one of the major changes in British land use in the last century.

The work of foresters during the past 80 years has added huge plantations to the British landscape, often in areas where few trees grew before. That change has resulted in the loss of the former habitat but the creation of new ones. The value of afforested areas for wildlife has often been underestimated.

Black grouse
© Forestry Commission

Particularly in their early stages, plantations change over quite a short space of ecological time. The wildlife which is present at the planting or restocking stage in a commercial plantation are different from those there as the trees grow up and the canopy closes and again differ from those in the maturing plantations.

A number of once rare birds have made a comeback on the back of conifer plantations. The common crossbill, the goshawk, the firecrest, siskins and redpolls have all benefited from afforestation.

Different raptors - or birds of prey - in Britain are capable of exploiting a wide range of forest habitats. Forest edges are important features.

Within woods and forests, care is taken to identify, conserve and improve nest sites and minimise disturbance in the breeding season. Emphasis is now placed on retaining old trees.

Over the centuries, our native forests declined from being almost unbroken on all but the highest, most exposed and wettest areas to mere modified remnants by the 1990's. Man brought about this dramatic change which has had a profound effect on wildlife. This extensive deforestation provided advantages and disadvantages and winners and losers. It benefited open-country raptors but led to the decline of many forest-dwelling species.

Since 1920, policies recommending the extensive planting of conifer forests brought about a major change in the British uplands. These new forests are not the same as those which were there before man's intervention, but do provide suitable habitats for a wide range of species. Many forests provide safe refugia and sustain viable populations of certain raptors and the prey species they depend on.

More: The FC, BTO & RSPB have useful publications
Reading - Fuller, R.J. Bird Life of Woodland and Forest. (1995) Cambridge University Press. Avery, M. & Leslie, R.
Birds and Forestry (1990) T. & A.D. Poyser.
FC Bulletin 118, Ecology and Conservation of Raptors in Forests. By F.J. Petty. 1998. HMSO. ISBN 0 11 710344 6.