An independent report released today highlights that those who care for woodlands and forests across Britain are increasingly aware of the threats from environmental change, especially drought, wildfires, and pathogens, such as ash dieback and acute oak decline, yet there’s little evidence of action being taken overall to improve woodland resilience.
The 2020 edition of the British Woodlands Survey, funded by the Forestry Commission and co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation, attracted the views of 1,055 woodland owners, agents, and forestry professionals, representing 3% of privately-owned woodland in Britain. With environmental change as its main theme, the research team from Sylva Foundation and Forest Research explored awareness, action, and aspiration among the private sector which owns 74% of forested land in Britain.
Hand-in-hand with increasing awareness and observation of environmental threats, the report highlighted concerns that many of those who own or manage woodlands are not actively planning or managing in ways which would make woodlands more resilient in the future. For example, a minority of respondents had considered local climate change projections or studied the soils that support their woodlands. A key indicator that an owner or manager has considered threats from environmental change while planning to make a woodland more resilient is having a management plan compliant with UK Forestry Standard. The report’s authors highlighted that a minority (31%) of respondents had a UKFS management plan in place.
Looking to the future, many respondents indicated that they might consider creating new woodlands and planting new hedgerows or agroforestry systems in the longer-term. In the short-term, however, complexities of regulations and bureaucratic grants were seen as significant hurdles preventing more landowners from considering woodland creation. This is a concern given ambitious woodland creation plans to plant 30,000ha of trees across the UK by 2025.
The report has been published in time to inform government’s England Tree Strategy and the third Climate Change Risk Assessment, and it will underpin the work of the Forestry and Climate Change working group which oversees the delivery of an action plan promoting adaptation and resilience in England.
The report’s lead author Dr Gabriel Hemery, who is also CEO of the Sylva Foundation, commented: ‘There are a huge number of interesting findings in the report, but if I was to pick one to highlight it would be how we have unearthed a very strong relationship between current activity and future intended actions among land managers. This is significant because it points to the importance of investing more in advocacy and support for those who own or manage our woodlands. The benefits will be realised not only in their woodlands, but by nature and by society as a whole.’
Forestry Commission Chair Sir William Worsley said: ‘This independent report, which we commissioned, highlights how important it is that we continue to nurture our woodlands. They are the cornerstone of a healthy environment and crucial in the fight against climate change. We recognise the challenges that landowners face when making management decisions, and we are committed to working closely with them to support long-term management, ensuring healthy and resilient woodlands for the future.’
Simon Lloyd, Chair of the Forestry and Climate Change Working Group (FCCWG) and CEO of the Royal Forestry Society added: ‘This is an immensely useful report in our work promoting adaptation and resilience in the country’s forests. While there are some positive indications of changes in awareness and behaviour, overall it’s clear that the forestry sector is not doing enough nor reacting quickly enough to combat the climate emergency.’
A series of four online workshops during October organised by the FCCWG and hosted by the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) are being held to help support woodland managers in combating climate change. Attendance online is free to all, including ICF non-members. The British Woodlands Survey 2020 report is now freely available.