Measures on SCA’s land are helping the white-backed woodpecker

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The number of white-backed woodpeckers in Västerbotten is continuing to grow. This success is due to several years of work to recreate deciduous forests. SCA is one of the participants in the project run by the Västerbotten County Administrative Board. “We are proud that the measures we are taking on SCA’s land are helping to create good habitats for the white-backed woodpecker and also enabling successful nests,” says Ulf Hallin, SCA’s nature conservation expert in Västerbotten.

The white-backed woodpecker is a rare bird with strict habitat requirements. It lives in light forests dominated by deciduous trees with many dead and dying deciduous trees, where they can find food in the form of wood-inhabiting insects associated with aspen, alder, birch and willow. This type of forest is not very common any more, however. The woodpecker also needs a lot of high-quality space to survive – during the breeding season, a territory can cover at least 100 hectares.

11 white-backed woodpecker nests have been observed for the whole of Sweden this year, and seven of these were in Västerbotten.

“In this year’s inventories, twelve pairs of white-backed woodpeckers were observed in the county, and seven of these had successful nests and fledged chicks. One pair close to SCA’s land fledged as many as three chicks. “This is really great news and it should mean that nesting conditions are optimal here,” says Ulf.

Restoring deciduous forests

In 2017, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency launched an action plan for white-backed woodpeckers whereby the Västerbotten County Administrative Board initiated a collaboration with the White-backed Woodpecker Project, Umeå and Skellefteå Municipalities, SCA, Holmen Skog and Sveaskog. These partners have worked together to create habitats for the white-backed woodpecker both inside and outside nature reserves.

“We have mainly restored deciduous forests by felling spruce and some pine in deciduous forests so they became lighter and dominated by deciduous trees after the measures. Most of these restored, slightly older forests contain a lot of dead and dying deciduous trees that provide habitats for the white-backed woodpecker’s favorite food – a group of beetles from the Longhorn family that produce large fat larvae. When the spruce is removed, the climate becomes lighter and warmer and this type of beetle produces more larvae,” says Ulf.

Developing habitats for the future

In some areas, where it has been difficult to use machinery to remove the spruce, SCA ring-barked the spruce instead to promote deciduous trees. The ring-barked spruce will die within a few years and create space for the deciduous trees to spread instead.

“We have also been working on the restoration of younger forests in the early-thinning stage by removing conifers to a large extent in order to promote deciduous trees. This will create young deciduous-dominant forests that can hopefully, in the future, provide good nesting habitats for the white-backed woodpecker.

Continuing to take measures

The Västerbotten County Administrative Board has now received less funding for biological conservation. That means they will no longer be able to recreate deciduous forests in nature reserves nor take care of already restored areas to the same extent. Spruce trees will eventually regrow in these forests. 

SCA is continuing to take measures on its own land however. The hope is that dialogue and the collaboration with the County Administrative Board and others involved in the project will not be affected by the fact that the County Administrative Board has received less funding for biological conservation.

“Since SCA is committed to protecting the white-backed woodpecker and the bird has nesting sites on our land, we will make sure we maintain and create new habitats for the species by continuing with the management measures we have already carried out. We are trying to concentrate our measures to those landscapes where the white-backed woodpecker breeds and to ensure there are large enough areas with suitable habitats where it can find plenty of food in order to breed,” says Ulf.

An umbrella species

The white-backed woodpecker is classified as critically endangered on the Swedish Red List. It is also an umbrella species.

“That means that if we succeed in promoting the white-backed woodpecker, we will also be protecting many others species. There are about 200 other red-listed plant and animal species that are dependent on the same habitat as the woodpecker,” says Ulf.

Photo: Christer Olsson