Will a Forest Habitat Network in the Scottish Highlands be both feasible and truly sustainable?
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The Forest Habitat Network (FHN) concept has emerged in recent years as a strategy to reverse processes of deforestation and ecosystem degradation by connecting existing woodland habitat and increasing forest area. This thesis presents a wide ranging investigation into the potential for a FHN in the Scottish Highlands. A multidisciplinary approach combining a literature review, GIS analysis and questionnaires is employed in order to examine the potential for a FHN in terms of socio-economic effects, environmental suitability, opportunity in terms of policy and also willingness of landowners to participate. Firstly a review of the literature outlines the debate concerning the ‘natural’ Highland landscape, and current practices are compared with the potential benefits available from increased woodland cover. A GIS model is then developed and employed in order to determine the potential for woodland species to move through the landscape and so identify targeted areas where planting or management could enhance woodland connectivity in the Highlands. In addition, questionnaire results are presented to give an indication of the views that landowners currently hold on the idea of a FHN. The results from the GIS analysis and questionnaires are combined with an assessment of current policies in order to evaluate overall feasibility. It is concluded that targeted planting and management will enable the development of a FHN, which is argued to be a strategy for a more balanced, sustainable relationship with the land than is currently found in the Highlands. It is also found that current policies are supportive of FHN development, and that a majority of the landowners sampled were either in favour of the concept, or wanted to know more about it, indicating that a participatory approach to FHN development could be successful.