The Scottish government aims to increase woodland cover from 17% to 25% by 2050. One area for this expansion will be moorland. MOORCO, which stands for MOORrland COlonisation, studies the impact of woodland expansion on heather-dominated moorland.

MOORCO is a project managed by the James Hutton Institute and consists of four separate research projects. Situated at sites across Scotland and Northern England, each project investigates slightly different aspects of woodland colonisation.

There are four separate research projects:

  • Chronosequence plots: 3 sites with chronosequences of birch establishment on moorland

  • MILES planted plots: 3 sites each with replicated plots of planted birch and open heather moorland

  • MILES felled plots: 1 site with replicated plots of planted heather on felled birch woodland and mature birch woodland

  • The BIG experiment: 3 sites each with replicated plots of planted birch or pine and open moorland with and without grazing. The 3 sites are Ballogie, Invercauld and Glensaugh.


Birch colonisation on moorland can lead to a number of changes:

  • The number and type of organisms change. The understorey vegetation shifts from heather to grass. The number and type of soil organisms increase, with more soil mites, Collembola (springtails) and earthworms.

  • Soil microbial communities change with a shift from bacterial dominance to fungal dominance. The species of fungi present in the soil also change.

  • The soil characteristics also change, becoming drier and more acidic. The amount of soil carbon and organic matter decreases, whilst phosphorus increases.

Further Information

MOORCO is a collaborative project across several groups within the James Hutton Institute. Please contact Dr Ruth Mitchell for further information.