Over the last few months I’ve been working with colleagues from across the forestry sector on a major report presenting data from a survey about awareness, activities and aspirations to environmental change among woodland owners and managers, and forestry professionals.
The report demonstrates that private forestry holds the balance of power in meeting the challenges of environmental change. Woodland managers will need courage to make forward-looking decisions to ensure our woodlands can thrive in future. Nine out of ten woodland managers have experienced environmental change in recent years, yet less than half believe the UK’s forests will be affected in future.
At the historic COP21 climate talks in Paris the world came together and agreed to reduce the effects of climate change. Our woodlands and the products they produce play a significant role in the balance of greenhouse gases, for example by storing carbon, while also providing many benefits for people and wildlife. However, unless our woodlands are able to adapt to environmental change — which includes not only surviving in a warming climate, but also coping with threats from pests and diseases, fire and flooding — then none of these benefits will arise.
Our trees and woodlands need to be resilient or be able to ‘bounce back better’ in the face of threats from environmental change. Fortunately we have a forestry standard for the UK (the UKFS) that is recognised globally as exemplary. This includes 18 key guidelines that aim to ensure that our woodlands are able to adapt to environmental change. If woodlands are managed according to these guidelines then we could have some confidence that UK forestry is well-prepared for environmental change. Examples might include anticipating a warmer climate by choosing the best species to plant for future conditions, or by taking actions to limit the spread of pests and diseases. But are woodland owners and managers aware of their vital role in helping the UK respond to environmental change?
The report shows that whilst there were some positive indicators of progress in the forestry sector, evidently current pest and disease outbreaks are dominating the resilience agenda, with less thought given to the longer term effects of environmental change. I believe that woodland owners and managers may not be aware of the magnitude of change that is predicted.
It is clear that some brave decisions will need to be made by individual woodland owners and managers, as well as the forestry sector as a whole, if our woodlands are to thrive long into the future. We must accept that certain risks are inevitable. Making decisions based on best available evidence, rather than assuming no change to engrained practices and the current state-of-play, will be more prudent and less risky in the long term.
Read more about the report (also a link to download the full report)
Hemery, G, G Petrokofsky, B Ambrose-Oji, G Atkinson, M Broadmeadow, D Edwards, C Harrison, et al. 2015. Awareness, Action and Aspiration among Britain’s Forestry Community Relating to Environmental Change: Report of the British Woodlands Survey 2015. 32pp. Sylva Foundation. www.sylva.org.uk/forestryhorizons/bws2015.