Trees and woods face greatest turning point in 100 years

Monday 28th November 2011

Twenty of the UK's leading forestry and wildlife bodies have, for the first time, joined together to draw attention to the challenges and opportunities faced by forests, woods and trees, which they say are greater now than at any other time in the last 100 years.

The consortium, led by the Woodland Trust and representing a range of interests from timber production, to woodland conservation, to community participation, has collaborated to produce 'The State of the UK’s Forests, Woods and Trees', a report to mark the International Year of Forests in 2011. 

It draws on the latest available evidence, looking at the current state, as well as the future potential, of the UK’s tree and woodland resource, urging government to shift up a gear in order to secure a robust future for it.

Woodland Trust Policy Director, Hilary Allison, said:

"We have shown, through the publication of this report, that NGOs and other industry bodies can and do work together, and that there is a remarkable degree of consensus.  The potential for forests, woods and trees to deliver positive benefits is huge and this report provides the evidence needed to grasp the current opportunity, before it is lost, to embed positive action into policy and, more importantly, practice.  Forests, woods and trees are currently on the political agenda in all parts of the UK so this is a real turning point in their history.  It's time for government and society to take action to secure their future."

The organisations behind the report, including The Wildlife Trusts, agree that the most pressing issues for forests, woods and trees are:
• Securing the benefits of increasing woodland cover to help mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to deliver a range of other 'ecosystem services'.
• Tackling the unprecedented challenges faced by trees, woods and forests - from climate change, an increase in pests and diseases, the effects of centuries of loss and fragmentation, land-use change, financial constraints and economic conditions.
• Delivering a healthy and resilient forest resource to achieve maximum benefits for people, wildlife, and the wider environment.

All these issues point to:
• the need to recognise and enhance the diversity in form, function, and use of our woods.
• the need for joined-up thinking with supportive government policies that embed forests, woods and trees and enable collaboration within the sector.
• the need for public support and an awareness of the benefits of woodland and why its protection and expansion is essential.  The strong emotional reaction to the threat of losing the public forest estate earlier in 2011 needs to be deepened to a real understanding of and support for forests, woods and trees as working landscapes and as crucial habitats for wildlife.

Woodland Trust Conservation Advisor and the report's lead author, Sian Atkinson, added:

"We already have a good deal of the research and policy in place to support the above identified needs. It is now essential that these policies are recognised, prioritised and driven into practice with adequate resources behind their implementation."

The groups that have contributed to the State of UK Forest's report are, in alphabetical order, as follows:
Ancient Tree Forum,
Bat Conservation Trust,
Coed Cymru,
Community Woodland Association,
Confor,
Campaign for National Parks,
Country Land and Business Association,
Forest Policy Group,
Forest Stewardship Council,
Institute of Chartered Foresters,
National Forest,
Reforesting Scotland,
Royal Forestry Society,
Scottish Wildlife Trust,
Small Woods Association,
Sylva Foundation,
The Wildlife Trusts,
Trees and Design Action Group,
UK Woodland Assurance Standard,
Woodland Trust.

International Year of Forests:
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 the International Year of Forests, to raise awareness of sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.  While this has been an opportunity to look outwards, at forests across the globe, it has also been a chance to take stock of forests, woods and trees in the UK.

England: The Forestry Regulations Task Force for England was launched in January 2011 with an aim to "identify ways to reduce the regulatory burden on those who seek to create and sustainably manage forests“.  It published the ‘Challenging Assumptions, Changing Perceptions’ report in October and awaits a response from the government as to whether they will implement the Task Force’s suggestions.

The Independent Panel on Forestry was also established in March 2011 by Caroline Spelman after plans to sell off the public forest estate were abandoned following widespread public protest.  The Panel is to offer recommendations to the English Government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England.

Wales: A proposal has been put forward to create a new Single Environmental Body to take the place of the Environment Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission currently operating in Wales.

Scotland: The Scottish Government is committed to increasing woodland cover, and to do so in a way that is integrated with other land management objectives. To find a constructive and balanced way forward they have established the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group.  This 18-strong group of farmers, foresters, conservation, community and land experts will help identify types of land best suited for tree planting.  Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/weag for more.

Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland is the least wooded country in the UK. However, Forest Service, has revealed plans to drastically cut its short-term woodland creation target.  A target of only 200 hectares has been set for the coming year.  The Northern Ireland Executive’s aspiration to double woodland cover over the next 50 years would require the creation of 1,740 hectares of new woodland per year.  The Woodland Trust is calling for the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister to set a more ambitious target in the Northern Ireland Executive’s forthcoming Programme for Government.

Ecosystem services provided by forests, woods and trees include: reduction of urban temperatures, improvement of water quality, flood alleviation, provision of wildlife habitats, aiding productive agriculture (shelter for crops/ livestock, flood mitigation), mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, enhancement of health and wellbeing.