Skip to main content

The Animals of Gair Wood - Research Spotlight on Alana Thornton


Since completing a successful pre-planting survey last summer at the University's new research woodland, Gair Wood, Alana Thornton has returned to the site this year for a master's research project.

Over two months, Alana recorded the diversity of birds and invertebrates at Gair Wood in the first summer since the woodland was planted. Alana's research contributes to the ongoing monitoring of the site and will play an important role in understanding how best to manage the site, as well as providing an important baseline dataset for future studies.


Video transcript:

"My name is Alana Thornton. I'm a master's student studying biodiversity and conservation and my project is on faunal diversity on Gair Wood. I've done some invertebrate surveys using pitfall traps, some butterfly surveys, and bird surveys, and I'm looking at the diversity both before and after tree planting.

"This year I've observed skylarks and some swifts, some house sparrows, lots of red kites, buzzards, wood pigeons, and crows. Last year it was it was quite similar but there was a higher number of crows and pigeons.

"In terms of butterflies, even today we've seen loads of meadow brown butterflies. Last week and the week before it was small coppers so I think there must have been a recent brood of small coppers on site.

"In terms of invertebrates, it's pretty similar to how it was last year. We've got a lot of carabid beetles, lots of slugs, lots of spiders - particularly wolf spiders.

"I'll be really interested to see how the woodland changes over time compared to the baseline research that's been collected at the beginning. In terms of the diversity of invertebrates, that is likely to change from a grassland community through to a woodland community but it'll be interesting to see how long that transition takes. Similarly with birds and butterflies, certain species are more associated with woodlands and certain species are more associated with grasslands so it'll be interesting to see like if there is a shifting point over the next ten to twenty years.

"I think it's important to have baseline research from the beginning because in ten or twenty years time when we're collecting future research, it will be interesting to see the vast differences between then and now.

"Tree cover in this country isn't very much. We've only got about 13% tree cover in this country and only about seven percent of it is actually in a good ecological condition. Most of it's conifer plantations so I think it's really important that the University of Leeds are planting a native woodland in quite an urban area. It will increase tree cover but it will also provide another habitat for the biodiversity that's in the area. It will help with carbon sequestration and hopefully help cooling and soil quality and filtering runoff.

"My master's research will provide really important faunal baseline data for continued research into the future. It should also be able to inform future management practices if we find a particular species on here that means certain management practices need to be implemented over the next few years. I think that would be great to have been a part of.

"I also think it's really important that we are planting trees and there's been so much research design going into the the layout of the woodland, as opposed to just putting any tree anywhere. I think it's been really thought out and there's different diversity plots and different densities so it'll be really interesting to see how the invertebrates change across different planting regimes and how the fauna of the site changes as it transitions into a woodland.

"In September, I start a PhD which is going to be looking at finding and creating refuge from climate change in Northern Britain and it will involve quite a lot of similar things, such as bird and butterfly surveys, so I feel like without having this experience I wouldn't have been able to successfully apply and get that PhD. It's been a life-changing experience for me doing this research project and I'm really excited to see how the the woodland and the research continues into the future."