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Background information is provided on the status and ecology of raptors (birds of prey) in Britain and the legislation that gives them full protection. Based on this information, management techniques are proposed that will improve man-made conifer forests in the uplands for this spectacular group of birds, and the food webs upon which they are dependent.
The role of raptor predation is reviewed, and its importance in maintaining the fitness and health of prey populations is stressed. Contrary to widely held views, there is little evidence to support claims that raptors are responsible for the current declines in a number of bird species. In fact, the diversity and breeding performance of raptors in forests reflects the increasing variety of wildlife to be found within these man-made habitats.
Different raptors are capable of exploiting a wide range of forest habitats. Both young and old forests support more species than the thicket stage, and forest edges are important features. All raptors under consideration here are solitary breeders which exhibit regular spacing of breeding pairs in suitable habitats. Their densities are governed primarily by food-supplies. Secondary factors which may limit numbers include: shortage of nest sites, competition with other species for scarce resources, contamination with pollutants and illegal killing.
Management techniques for improving forests include: maintaining or enriching food-supplies through habitat management at the landscape scale, conserving and improving nest sites, and minimising disturbance. The transformation of even-aged conifer forests in the uplands into more complex habitats through small scale patch clear-cutting will diversify raptor populations and their food-supplies. Examples are given of how the size and spatial arrangement of clear cuts can affect the distribution of raptor species. At present, the lack of old trees within these relatively young habitats is limiting their potential for raptors and their prey. So, planning now for large areas of old trees will enable these forests to become even more important wildlife habitats in the future.
- Ecology of raptors
- Management of forests for raptors
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