Evaluating the Ecological Suitability of Woodland Grant Schemes in Lochaber
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The Scottish Government has clearly stated its intention to increase woodland cover to 25% of land area by 2050. This relies heavily on publicly funded grant schemes to encourage woodland creation on private land. However, to date required rates to woodland expansion have not been achieved. Furthermore, the benefits of new woodland are not guaranteed and vary by woodland type, spatial characteristics and cultural context. Finally, the extent to which woodland grant schemes are achieving their objectives has been highly under-evaluated. This dissertation is composed of two papers that examine these issues. The first presents a literature review of woodland expansion in the Scottish context. This explores the benefits and disbenefits of woodland creation, the importance of landowner motivations and attitudes, and attempts to evaluate woodland grant schemes. The second presents an approach to evaluating woodland grant schemes based on ecological suitability criteria. This is demonstrated through a case study of the Lochaber Forest District in Northwest Scotland. Spatial analysis using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is used to assess the extent to which woodland creation is suited to site conditions. This is further explored through in-depth interviews in order to understand decision-making processes. Findings suggest that the majority of new woodlands are suited to site conditions, and that this has improved in recent years. This is most likely due to the formalisation of decision-making processes and a return to the philosophy of matching species to sites. Further potential for improvement is identified; potentially by embedding suitability criteria at a higher level in decision-making through the spatial targeting of grant schemes.