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Protecting Britain’s iconic oak trees and their biodiversity

British oak trees support a rich biodiversity (c) James Huttton Institute
"We hope our work will be useful to woodland managers as they work to conserve oak-associated biodiversity"

Britain’s iconic oak trees have a reputation for supporting biodiversity, but a changing climate is making them increasingly susceptible to threats from pests and diseases. A research collaboration featuring James Hutton Institute scientists is examining ways of alleviating the risks to UK native oak populations, as well as assessing the biodiversity supported by oak trees.

The project PuRpOsE: Protecting Oak Ecosystems also features researchers based at the University of Reading, Forest Research, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York and the University of Oxford.

Professor Rob Jackson, a biological scientist at the University of Reading, said: “Britain’s oak trees are part of its cultural landscape, but they could look very different in future. The oak is a key component of woodland ecosystems in the UK and so its decline would have a much wider impact on other species, like fungi, insects and even humans.

“Humans have long been influential in the management of oak trees, as it was historically used for many activities including use for buildings, and charcoal production for metal smelting, thus it was planted widely. Now humans must take action to protect our oaks for future generations. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so forest managers need support to face the specific challenges facing different forests and put in place long-term strategies.”

As part of the research, Dr Ruth Mitchell, of the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group, led a Hutton team along with partners from RSPB, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge, to assess the biodiversity supported by oak. The team has collated and produced the most comprehensive list yet of all species known to use native oak trees (Quercus petraea and Q. robur) in the UK, consisting of 2300 total species including 38 bird species, 229 bryophytes, 108 fungi, 1178 invertebrates, 716 lichens and 31 mammals.

Dr Mitchell commented: “This list does not include any of the bacteria and other micro-organisms that are associated with oak, so the real number of species that use oak trees, although unknown, is sure to be much greater.

“We knew oak hosted a great variety of species, but we had no idea how many until we started this project. We hope our work will be useful to woodland managers as they work to conserve oak-associated biodiversity.”

The researchers are continuing to identify which areas of Britain may be most affected by a decline in oak and help develop tailored, flexible solutions for forest managers in these different areas.

After a presentation of the project's findings, Defra Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner said: “I welcome today's Protecting Oak Ecosystems event to highlight the important work undertaken to address the serious threats to our iconic oak trees. It is inspirational to see so many people gathered together to discuss this critical issue.

“The learnings from this project will feed directly into our Action Oak initiative, a collaboration of charities, government, landowners and research institutions whose aim is to protect the UK’s 121 million oak trees from plant pests and diseases.”

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Printed from /news/protecting-britain%E2%80%99s-iconic-oak-trees-and-their-biodiversity on 18/04/24 01:10:17 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.