Sunday, 19 May 2024
Sunday, 19 May 2024

New high-tech app to streamline woodland surveys for landowners

A newly launched high-tech online application is set to transform the way landowners, managers and ecologists across the UK carry out woodland surveys.

The new Woodland Condition Assessment (WCA) App has been developed jointly by the Field Studies Council, Forestry Commission and Sylva Foundation as part of a project aimed at reducing the complexity and workload for woodland owners and managers.

Resource guides and training to help people get to grips with the new technology and build on their biodiversity identification skills have also been developed.

The project has been funded by Defra’s Nature for Climate Fund, which is transforming how trees and woodlands in England are grown and managed.

The easy-to-use WCA App improves the speed and accuracy of the existing WCA process which currently requires landowners and managers to fill out and submit complex and extensive survey forms and spreadsheets to obtain results on the ecological condition of a woodland area.

Neil Riddle of the Forestry Commission, which is leading the project, said the new app allowed reports on woodland condition to be easily generated while providing statistics for the Forestry Commission, and key data about how well woodlands are faring across the country.

He said:

“A condition assessment is a key element to help us understand where woodland management can be altered to improve the condition, so it was important that we created a tool that is user-friendly and provides meaningful data to monitor the condition of our woodlands.

“Users will also be able to print evidence that they have completed an assessment, all without the spreadsheets used previously which were complex and required a high level of knowledge or experience.

“Our plan is that by developing accessible training and learning resources, more woodland owners and managers will be encouraged to complete assessments and alter their management practices to benefit biodiversity.”

Clare Rooney, biodiversity programme manager at the Field Studies Council, which has developed the resource guides and training, said:

“Feedback from existing WCA users (those working with the complex and lengthy spreadsheets) showed us that there was a real demand for an improved and more accessible version, alongside the need for additional guidance and resources.

“Effective woodland condition assessments rely on those implementing them having the requisite species and habitat knowledge for the most accurate results. The guides and training from the Field Studies Council heavily improve identification skills, which are essential for completing a WCA and will help produce the most accurate results.

“Working with our partners we have been able to share our expertise to create a tool and resources that will make such a difference to new and existing users and, ultimately, to the health of our woodlands.”

The Sylva Foundation, a charity dedicated to reviving Britain’s woodland culture, provided the design and development expertise for the new app.

Dr Gabriel Hemery, charity chief executive, said:

“The new app brings assessing a woodland’s condition into the 21st century, providing a more straightforward and user-friendly approach.

“The WCA App, together with the training and guides, will support improved woodland management. The new app will simplify the process for all users, particularly with the introduction of new rules around biodiversity net gain and other legislation for developers and landowners to consider.

“This project has been an excellent example of what can be achieved when like-minded partners work together, and I am very pleased that Sylva Foundation has been an important part of it.”

Users of the WCA App complete a survey while walking through a woodland. This produces scores for a range of features according to their condition. Depending on the cumulative scores across all features, a woodland’s condition will be rated as either good, moderate or poor.

A woodland condition assessment highlights which woodland features:

  • have an important influence on wildlife.
  • are in good ecological condition.
  • will benefit most from improvement.
  • are non-native – some of which can be negative for native wildlife.

The app, guides and training are aimed at everyone from professionals wanting to know more about the condition of woodland to interested amateurs.

For more information about the training courses and to download the WCA App for free, visit: https://www.field-studies-council.org/woodland-condition-assessments/.

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