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A brave new world for woodland managers
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A report published today demonstrates that private land owners hold the balance of power in meeting the challenges of environmental change to the UK’s forests and woodlands.

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS ) was one of the co-authors of the report which says that woodland managers will need courage to take informed risks and make bold decisions to ensure our woodlands can thrive in the future.

Bws2015 Report Cover

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.

The full report is available here 

Woodlands cover 13% of the UK’s land area and almost three quarters (2,283,000 ha*) are in private ownership, yet little was known about the awareness of woodland owners and managers, and forestry professionals, concerning adaptation to environmental change. Many key questions had never been asked, meaning that accordance with the guidelines of the United Kingdom Forestry Standard (UKFS) has been difficult to measure, both in terms of current actions and future aspirations.

Earlier in 2015 a group of ten leading forestry and woodland organisations, including the Royal Forestry Society, collaborated to run a national survey to address these questions; exploring awareness, action and aspiration relating to environmental change among private woodland owners and managers, and forestry professionals. 

The research was funded by Forestry Commission England, Sylva Foundation, University of Oxford and the Woodland Trust. Today the report of the survey’s findings is published.

 

• 1509 woodland owners, managers, professional foresters and tree nursery businesses responded to the survey, representing 11% of all privately-owned woodlands in the UK.

• 9/10 respondents had experienced an impact from environmental change in recent years, ranging from an outbreak of disease or pests, fire or flooding, to extreme wind events.

• Overall a small majority (52%) of respondents thought that climate change would impact the UK’s forests in future, though 34% were uncertain. Among specific groups, professional foresters were more convinced (70%) that climate change would impact the UK’s forests than woodland owners (45%).

• Most woodland owners were positive about the future for their woodland, although ash dieback featured strongly as a major issue of concern.

• A minority of woodland owners are taking adequate steps to minimise risks from pests and pathogens by implementing best practice guidelines for biosecurity.

Writing in the Foreword, Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Sir Harry Studholme, commented:

“For the first time, we have on record the ‘voice’ of more than one and a half thousand woodland owners and managers. This is critical as, if we want to make real change on the ground, this will have to be done by landowners and managers themselves. The results tell us that there is much work to do, with little progress seen on implementing adaptation to date. It is, however, pleasing to see that thought is being given to climate change and resilience.”

Lead author of the report, Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation, Dr Gabriel Hemery, said:

“Whilst there were some positive indicators of progress in the forestry sector, it is clear that current pest and disease outbreaks are dominating the resilience agenda, with less thought

given to the longer term effects of environmental change. Woodland owners and managers may not be aware of the magnitude of change that is predicted.”

He continued: “I am deeply concerned that only a small majority of woodland owners believed that climate change would impact the UK’s forests in future, and by the high degree of uncertainty expressed about this. Making improvements to our communications with woodland owners and managers must now be an urgent priority.”

“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.”

Reflecting on the report, Mike Townsend, Principal Advisor – Conservation, at the Woodland Trust said:

”It’s clear from the results of this survey that Government, its agencies, and those in the private and voluntary sector who work with woodland owners, must provide clear advice and practical help to ensure trees and woods and the wildlife they support are able to adapt to climate change, threats from pests and pathogens and other environmental change. We need a much higher proportion of woodland under some form of considered woodland management, and action across all sectors of the forest industry to ensure the UK’s trees and woods are able to adapt and thrive.”

Results from the survey will be used by the collaborating group of organisations to develop an Action Plan. Earlier in 2015, the same organisations agreed to work together, and more widely, to prepare for environmental change by signing a Climate Change Accord.

 

Summary of main findings:

1. Overall, implementation of the UKFS good forestry practice requirements for climate change adaptation is currently low.

2. High awareness among woodland stewards of environmental change impacts may provide new opportunities to engage with woodland managers, particularly if focussed around issues of direct and local relevance.

3. Professionals and agents were generally more aware and active in implementing adaptation measures than owners, indicating that existing sources of information and outreach activities among these groups are effective.

4. Lack of information and advice available to woodland owners and managers to help them respond to existing and emerging threats surfaced as a key issue. A number of owners expressed a view that subjects covered by the survey were too technical. Existing assumptions concerning comprehension and knowledge of adaptation and resilience may be unrealistic.

5. A dearth of contingency plans among owners and managers to deal with major events such as fire, pest and disease outbreaks, and extreme weather, is of considerable concern.

6. Low awareness of climate projections for their locality, together with lack of knowledge of soils, means that most woodland stewards are unaware of the potential impacts of environmental change. Most owners have not reviewed species suitability under projected climatic conditions and are therefore unaware of the need to, and potential for, improving the resilience of their woodland.

 

* Forestry Commission, 2015