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Self-funded MRes – Assessing the effects of coppice rotation and ash dieback on bird species distribution in a managed woodland

Self-funded MRes – Assessing the effects of coppice rotation and ash dieback on bird species distribution in a managed woodland

The study site is Bradfield Woods in Suffolk, eastern England. Bradfield Woods is a rare example of managed mixed species coppice, dominated by common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), hazel (Corylus avellana), birch (Betula spp.) and alder (Alnus glutinosa) which is typically cut on a rotation of 20 to 25 years. Scattered standard trees (non-coppiced, mature trees) are present in all coppice compartments, and there are some areas of mature woodland.

In both 2003 and 2017 extensive spring time bird surveys were conducted throughout Bradfield Woods, and in addition airborne lidar data were acquired of the area. Airborne lidar data supply detailed information on woodland structure. In 2003 the total area under active coppice management was 56.5 ha (total woodland area was 70.0 ha), and the total area covered by the bird census was 63.5 ha, comprising the active coppice compartments from 1980 to 2003 plus some additional mature woodland. Relationships between bird species distribution and woodland structure were assessed for 2003 (see Hinsley et al., 2009). The bird survey and airborne lidar data for 2017 have been processed, but are yet to be analysed in detail.

At the time of the 2017 surveys Bradfield Woods had been infected by ‘ash dieback’, caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. This was having particularly notable effects on the coppiced ash stools, often leading to the death of the ash plants (see Fuller et al., 2019). Thus, between the 2003 and 2017 surveys, structural change had occurred within Bradfield Woods both due to the coppice rotation and due to the effects of ash dieback.

The research questions to be addressed will be:

• Comparing the 2003 and 2017 data, do bird species move with habitat change due to coppice rotation or does the habitat simply change beneath their territories over time (i.e. do species show site or structure fidelity)?

• Do lidar derived structure metrics (and species rank order for those metrics) vary between 2003 and 2017?

• How has ash dieback impacted coppice structure and associated bird species distributions?

In addition to our main entry requirements the applicant for this MRes project must have good bird ecology knowledge in order to interpret the relationships between bird species distributions and forest structure. The candidate will also need GIS skills and be prepared to learn statistics and modelling using software such as SPSS or using R.

Closing date for applications 31 October 2021.

Further reading:

Fuller, R.J.  & Rothery, P. (2013) Temporal consistency in fine-scale habitat relationships of woodland birds during a period of habitat deterioration. Forest Ecology and Management, 289 (2013) 164–174.

Fuller, R.J., Casey, D., Melin, M., & Hill, R.A. (2019). Ash dieback and associated vegetation changes in the coppice of Bradfield Woods. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 113, 102-108.

Hinsley, S.A., Hill, R.A., Fuller, R.J., Bellamy, P.E. & Rothery P. (2009) Bird species distributions across woodland canopy structure gradients. Community Ecology, 10, 99-110.