A PhD student at Bangor University is investigating how well unplanted trees growing outside woodlands are establishing, and how we might include these trees in overall plans to expand woodland.

“According to the latest government report, around three per cent of trees are growing outside existing mapped woodlands,” explained Theresa Bodner, a third-year PhD student Bangor University’s Sir William Roberts Centre for Sustainable Land Use.

“These include trees which have naturally colonised previously unwooded land. In a country where we only have around 13 per cent total woodland cover to begin with, that is 750,000 ha of extra tree cover that can be used to achieve climate change targets.

“This is an obviously valuable resource and one we know very little about, as these trees are not included on formal maps and planting plans.”

Theresa is using a map detailing the location and attributes of more than
300 million trees, focusing on the Carneddau uplands, around 21,000 ha in the north of Snowdonia National Park in Wales. This is a very complex landscape with lowlands, uplands, various types of land uses, different land ownerships, protected areas, several areas of common land, grazing rights, and areas of different cultural and archaeological significance.

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Theresa said: “This is a perfect place to look at trees outside woodlands as not only a forestry topic, but also of a wider relationship with different land uses altogether. We can explore where trees outside woodlands are located, what type of land they grow on and their potential role in meeting our woodland targets.

“I’m using the Bluesky National Tree Map data. Its invaluable in this research as it is the closest resource we have for understanding the natural colonisation of trees in Britain’s landscape.”

Using the QGIS geographic information system, Theresa and colleagues at the university’s school of natural sciences are comparing the National Tree Map data with other publicly available maps. Combined with interviews with stakeholders, this will help them to understand where non-woodland trees are and how they relate to proposed woodland opportunities, such as the Glastir land management scheme in Wales.

Prior to her PhD, Theresa, from Gmünd, Austria, completed a master’s at the Universities of Padova and Bangor.

“Woodland expansion is an incredibly hot and relevant topic, and my PhD project proposal was worded very openly so I have a lot of flexibility to define what I want to do,” she added.

Dr Norman Dandy, Sir William Roberts Centre director, added: “Theresa’s research is extremely timely as more attention is now being given to ways in which woodlands can be expanded through approaches that require only limited management intervention.

“Natural regeneration and colonisation, including by trees outside woodlands, is being taken increasingly seriously as a way of mitigating climate change.”

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