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CVLLP 1: Sustainable Woodland

Project Objective

To enhance, restore and connect the woodland habitats of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership (CVLLP) area, and to ensure the continuation of sustainable land management practices, so that the species that depend on them can increase in population size and range.

Throughout Europe there is a move toward the landscape approach to conservation of biodiversity, lead not least by the threat of climate change. This project aims to take an innovative approach to sustainable landscape management by showing how conservation actions when delivered at a landscape level (the Churnet Valley) can be carried out; optimising the involvement of the community and cooperation between non-governmental organisations, individuals and industry to minimise the costs of conservation management and maximise ecosystems services. The concept of Ecosystem Services involves recognizing an ecosystem not just for biodiversity benefits but rather the full range of services and products it provides:

Services of the Churnet Valley area include woodland that offer economic potential through wood markets while also being an access resource for the community and visitors, contributing to social cohesion, leisure and recreation.

Fit to existing strategies and objectives

The European Union’s (EU) ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and beyond’ identifies action for threatened species as a key pillar of its approach. This project will provide beneficial to some of the EU's endangered species such as:

  • Phylloscopus sibilatrix Wood Warbler

(EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern High

  • Phoenicurus phoenicurus Common Redstart

(EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern Medium)

  • Picus viridis Green Woodpecker

(EU Concern Moderate, UK Concern Low)

  • Rheumaptera hastata Argent & Sable Moth

Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2011 and beyond identifies the recognition of the link between biodiversity and ecosystem services and promotes a shift towards a new balance between conservation and development; this project addresses objectives:

(2) To conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside

(5) To substantially reduce the impact of invasive alien species and alien genotypes

(9) To support biodiversity adaptation to climate change

(10) To substantially strengthen the knowledge base for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in the EU and globally

In the European Commission’s ambitious new strategy “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020” there are three main targets which will all be addressed in an demonstrative way within this project:

(2) Better protection of ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure

(3) More sustainable agriculture and forestry

(4) Tighter control on invasive species

Comprehensive description of the project

We have undertaken a Valley-wide woodland survey project (TEP 2011) to identify woodlands that can be brought into ecological and economical management, and will target by area one third (1,000ha) of woodlands for engagement and 400ha to enter into management.

Lack of woodland management in the project area has resulted in a lack of structural diversity required to sustain populations of key species. This has resulted in range contractions and local extinctions. Factors influencing declines in woodland bird species have, broadly, been identified as a lack of woodland management resulting in:

  • Crown crowding, excess shade and cooling micro-climate
  • Lack of understory grazing for a suite of species that favour open shrub layer (Common redstart, wood warbler and European pied flycatcher)
  • Lack of structural diversity for species that depend on the shrub layer (marsh and willow Tit)
  • Lack of internal open space - rides, glades

Without intervention in woodland management at a landscape scale this situation will continue to deteriorate; the structure of woodlands will become unfavourable for species, so increasing isolation of populations. The Project targets the factors underpinning woodland bird decline by bringing woodlands into favourable management. This is to be achieved by linking appropriate management for conservation benefit to a market for wood products, thus ensuring sustainable woodland management. The interface between woodlands and adjacent habitats is also important for a number of species, and the project will address this by seeking to influence woodland management throughout the valley and by working closely with other CVLLP projects.

RSPB will work with landowners and others within the community to move their woodlands toward good ecological condition by bringing their woodlands into management, but we want to ensure that people getting involved in woodland management will put biodiversity gains as the important outcome rather than over-exploitation.

Woodland Products

Our project will identify and promote a wide range of woodland products and routes in order to maximise economic potential of woodlands without creating an over reliance on the woodfuel market. Within the woodfuel market we will look at innovative methods to maximise benefit. Potential exists to develop a woodfuel market based upon road transport collection hubs reducing the transport costs incurred in road transport and the canal with narrow boats transporting products out of this poorly serviced valley.

The Churnet Valley Woodland Resource (TEP 2011)

Woodland extent in Churnet Valley; total woodland resource ha - Broadleaved 1,931ha:

  • Coniferous 403ha
  • mixed 482ha
  • felled 4ha
  • young 22ha
  • shrub – 7ha

Ancient Woodland SSSI and condition:

  • Favourable 102ha
  • Unfavourable (recovering, no-change, declining) 208ha

Ancient now Plantation SSSI and condition:

  • Favourable 6ha –
  • Unfavourable 45ha

Non-Ancient woodland SSSI and condition:

  • Favourable 26ha
  • Unfavourable 75ha

Project Activity

The sustainable woodland project targets the factors underpinning woodland decline by bringing woodlands into favourable management. This is to be achieved by linking management for conservation benefit to a market for wood products, thus ensuring sustainable woodland management. Using the Canal / River habitat management project (CVLLP 5) project, together with demonstrations and events from sites within the Valley, including Coombes Valley Nature Reserve (CVLLP 19) to disseminate information and support other woodland owner/managers in the valley.

RSPB will advise local woodland owners and managers on how to bring woodlands into management and support them by helping to develop the market for woodland products by:

  • engaging landowners (in priority search areas) to establish interest, and explain the benefits of woodland management and funding options available
  • identify and gather potential customers (such as schools, hotels, leisure centres) to establish their need, opportunity and willingness to buy the products
  • research the supply chain to see where products can be sold locally
  • work with customers/suppliers to advise on grants/loans that are available to help expand and strengthen their businesses such as equipment or training
  • support throughout the grant-funding application process for all parties wishing to apply
  • explore partnerships that are necessary to support the delivery of a woodfuel market in the Churnet Valley and in the future beyond the initial study area

The sustainable woodland project will provide advice to local landowners on how to manage their woodland for the benefit of biodiversity, we will need to carry out surveys on the woodlands that we intend to provide advice about and monitor the effectiveness of the advice given to landowners in order to learn lessons as the project progresses. We will do this by carrying out surveys to ground-trust the potential of the woodlands (managed and undermanaged) to produce woodfuel and their potential to benefit wildlife, and monitor success and feedback on lessons learned.

The success of the woodland project will depend on communication with the local woodland managers and the wider community; these communications will need to inform local people of the aims of the project, the availability of woodland management advice, and local woodfuel products. Events will be planned to ensure that woodland managers understand how it can benefit them, the local environment and the local economy.

RSPB will also ensure that the woodfuel products are promoted to potential customers in order to maximise the market that the woodfuel economy will need in order to thrive. We will do this by: Holding seminars and workshops to inform contractors, installers, schools and hotel owners, or other parties expressing an interest in wood fuel. We will also develop the market for woodland habitat products, by promotion and work to expand markets. We will:

a) work with owners to determine what products are suitable, and likely production rates

b) research the supply chain to see where products can be sold locally

c) create markets for products, for example create a market for locally produced charcoal

d) promote woodland products

Management liaison: the Sustainable Woodland project will act to engage land owners with the local contractor base and local markets by:

a) running information service for linking producers with markets, for example commercial markets for wood fuel (chippings, arisings, logs) and specialist markets for wood products

b) setting up meetings between producers and market

c) embedding this service in, for example Chamber of Commerce and Staffordshire Rural Hub so that it can continue beyond the project period

Who will benefit?

Woodland managers in the valley: Woodlands within the CVLLP study area have a range of owners and managers, beyond the main organisations in the study area it has been difficult to obtain ownership details. Some of the initial work by our Woodland Officer will be to identify and meet these owners. Of the 2,920.98ha of woodland (including woodlands that are contiguous beyond the CVLLP area boundary) 333.96ha are of unknown ownership. Owners or managers of 1528.46ha of woodland are known to the Forestry Commission or Natural England through management agreements (SSSI & HLS) or grant funding (Woodland Grants). There are 16 private owners of 72ha of woodland, estate or organisations managing 222.07ha; the Forestry Commission owns 291.62ha; while the Local Authorities own 219.60; and the NGOs manage a further 200ha. Our target is for at least 50 woodland owners/managers to gain an improved attitude and commitment to nature conservation management of land.

Local Contractors and businesses: The sustainable woodland project will create work for contractors and companies in the area that already are, or are capable of, providing woodland based services to woodland owners or managers in the valley. Our socio-economic monitoring evaluation project will determine the level of success, but out target is a combined economic income circa £40k per year from woodland management initiatives derived from this project by 2016.

CVLLP Partnership: The Accredited Training Package (CVLLP 22) will benefit from access to a professional woodland management expert. Internal support will be expected in the region of four working days per year toward assisting with ATP.

Professional Dissemination of Woodland Management outside the valley: The role of the Woodland Officer will be to bring woodlands in the Churnet Valley into good conservation management and to help identify and promote markets to ensure management remains economically sustainable.

This is complex and challenging role and they will be in a position to share their experience with woodland and environmental managers through presentations at two national level conferences and one European conference. Although the Woodland Officer will be expected to organise and attend these events they will be able to take others with them, particularly practicing woodland managers from the valley who have become involved in the project.

Outputs and outcomes

There is 1800 ha woodland in the Churnet Valley not in any management grant scheme out of a woodland resource of c2800ha in the area (TEP 2011)

RSPB aim to have engaged with the owners/managers of one third of all woodland within the valley (c1000ha), together with linking habitats into management toward good ecological condition by the end of the project. Hedgerow management within the valley bottom will contribute to demonstrating internally the ecological benefits of connecting habitats through our support project, where other sites can receive support from agri-environment schemes.

Our target is for 22 % of that 1800ha going into positive management (c400ha) (eg, entering a woodland grant scheme or developing a management plan), assuming restoration is bringing conifer and mixed woodland back to deciduous woodland, and deciduous woodland entering into management (including Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) and bringing SSSIs into favourable condition) . Currently c400 ha of conifer and c400ha of mixed woodland in the area so 25% of that being restored. Total number of landowners in unknown at present but there are 2,300 parcels of woodland in the area so we assume that there are at least 50 different owners/managers as a minimum figure.

Measuring Outputs

1000 hectares of woodland engaged with the Woodland Project Officer by the end of the project.

400 hectares of woodland in management to restore in project area.

50 woodland owners/managers with an improved attitude and commitment to nature conservation management of land.

Manage invasive species within and adjacent to woodland packages

1 Sustainable business equivalent in wood products (including wood fuel) - circa £40k per year


The sustainable woodland project will bring 400ha of woodland into management and take it toward good ecological status. A good part of how we achieve this will be by assisting landowners and woodland managers into grant schemes, which will require confirmation of tenure and contractual commitments over time. However, there are no direct tenure implications for us within this project.

What happens after the project is finished?

The RSPB has a long-term commitment to woodland management across the UK and specifically within the Churnet Valley, where they already own and manage several woodland sites. With their partners they will maintain an "After-Heritage Lottery” CVLLP website, where we intend to build upon what we have achieved and to use the Ecosystem Services Model to keep the valley in the forefront of innovative landscape scale countryside management.

The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership has long-term aims well beyond the life of this project. There is a large tourism element within the Churnet Valley and it has been identified as a Sustainable Tourism Corridor for the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tourism in this area is ‘sold’ with a heavy emphasis upon landscape and sustainability; the biodiversity outcomes of this project will be interpreted and promoted for many years to come. Our CVLLP Website and Downloads will be maintained and partners; BW, RSPB & SWT will also maintain weblinks and information on their sites.

All partners have a long-term commitment to The Churnet Valley with SWT and RSPB owning and managing Nature Reserves and British Waterways owning and managing a canal. We and our other partners are committed to maintaining the impetus of the project, continued interpretation of our project and the dissemination of information about our activities.

Risks and constraints

Operational Risks

Risk: Key staff retention, technical skills and relationships with land managers need to be built up over time, staff recruitment and retention is therefore important.

Contingency planning: Project is over a reasonable timescale compared to many other projects of 12 to 18 months; this should attract committed staff. Project figures allow for modest salary increases over the time period.

Risk: long term staff absence, for example maternity leave or illness, could affect the success of the project because it has ambitious targets for the project timescale. Contingency planning: Contingency budget to pay for cover for staff if necessary.

Project Delivery Risks

Risk: Failure to engage woodland managers in actively managing their woodlands is an issue we are aware of; they are not currently managing sites.

Contingency planning: Our emphasis is upon biodiversity and ecosystems services but we will be highlighting the emphasis on new emerging and real economic reasons to engage in management of woodlands. Our targets for engagement are realistic and do not require the participation of every woodland manager in the valley. We will also work closely with other parts of the CVLLP programme; particularly the Staffordshire Rural Hub Advisor to maximise the amount of contact our project has within the valley community.

Risk: Economic pressures arising from the creation of wood product market leads to increased woodland degradation.

Contingency Planning: Currently woodland management is uneconomical, woodland managers taking part in our project will be required to meet ecological constrains within their management plans ands we will evaluate this through the ecological element of the Monitoring & Evaluation project.

Post Project Failure Risks

Risk: abandonment of initiatives once CVLLP support and assistance has been removed, is a very real issue, it is therefore one that we are targeting through the emphasis upon creating an economic return from the ecosystems services we are developing through the wood product market. Where land is not well managed now for biodiversity it is due to financial restrictions; if we help alleviate these issues, continued management will occur.

Constraints, licences, permits etc

Commencing work on SSSI (site of Special Scientific Interest) woodlands will require permissions, our project is suited to gaining these permissions and the relevant statutory body (Natural England) is a partner in CVLLP.  We are not expecting to undertake projects which will require planning permission.

Climate change

Climate change is presenting us with many challenges, such as the need to reduce emissions, find alternative energy sources to fossil fuels and to close the carbon cycle. Conversely, it is forcing our society to think about how we face these challenges and the potential business opportunities that may arise. The use of wood as fuel, through technological advances and the need to reduce emissions has once again become an attractive option, providing additional incentive to bring our under-managed woodlands into a more biodiverse and sustainable state.

The woodlands themselves will be healthier, better connected and more robust and better able to cope with climate change while our increased emphasis on local and natural products will, to a degree, buffer the community against a world with restricted raw materials, transport and engineered solutions.

Invasive species

Our Woodland Advisor will work with land owners / managers to bring woodlands into good ecological condition, including helping create management plans and actions to remove and eradicate invasive species where possible. In addition our Officer will work with the Participation Team to involve as many people as possible in the Himalayan Balsam pulling project.


Our Woodland Officer will maintain high levels of biosecurity within their woodland work, particularly with reference of Phytothfera contagion between woodland parcels. He/she will also work with others to raise the awareness of biosecurity issues within the valley.

Environmental Policy

Reduce travel: The Woodland Officer will be based within the area to reduce travel as far as practicable. Outsourced staff and contractors will be offered facilities within the

project (ie office desk) to allow them to undertake clerical elements of the project locally where possible.

Innovate within the project: we will be looking to maximise local markets for woodland products, whilst educing the market for imported (to the valley) woodland based products. In addition our project will identify carbon savings through transport hubs for road and look at alternative export routes via the heritage railway and canal network.

Green Procurement: Within our project to identify and 'economise' the biodiversity resources of the Churnet Valley, by purchasing/using woodland based products to deliver other elements of the project; headwaters and canal/river protection, we will identify environmental benefit. For the appointment of contractors and external contractors we will make use of the EU Green Procurement Toolkit to maximise environmental benefit.

Follow Environmental Policy: All staff, contractors, volunteers and placements will be expected to adhere to the relevant beneficiary’s environmental policy