Environmental factors changing our woodlands say UK owners and foresters

posted on October 1, 2015
Bristish Woodlands Survey 2015 infographic

Bristish Woodlands Survey 2015 infographic

9/10 woodland owners and other forestry professionals who responded to a national survey about environmental change in British woodlands say they had observed at least one form of impact in the past 10 years.

Woodland owners reported increases in vertebrate pests such as deer and squirrels while among professional managers and agents, pathogens and pests were the most commonly-reported impact on the woodlands that they manage.

Responses to the British Woodlands Survey 2015

Responses to the British Woodlands Survey 2015

More than 1470 people responded to the survey. The figures are among the first results revealed by a British Woodlands Survey on Resilience and are being announced today (1 Oct) at a Conference hosted by the Royal Forestry Society and Woodland Trust, Resilient Woods: Meeting the Challenges.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the UK’s woodlands are in private ownership. The survey provides an insight into how their owners; those who manage them and the nurseries who supply them are responding to potential challenges of the future through their planting and tree species choice. It captured the opinions and activities of those responsible for managing 11% of all privately-owned woodlands in the UK; an area covering 247,571 ha (equivalent to 245,606 rugby fields).

The survey results emphasised that in the past only 44% had specified provenance (origin) when buying trees for new planting. This highlights there may be a lack of awareness of the importance of provenance, and tree genetic diversity in general, when planning resilient woodlands. 69% of owners stated a preference in future for sourcing material grown in UK nurseries, possibly reflecting recent issues around infected imported plants – ash dieback was originally identified in the UK on plants imported from nurseries in continental Europe.

There also appears to be an appetite among private woodland owners towards a move from the current mix of native and non native tree species to a 6% increase in native species compared to non-native species. Such as change was not supported by forestry professionals.

Looking to the future, most respondents believe that climate change will significantly affect our forests, although there is considerable uncertainty among private woodland owners among whom more than 50% are uncertain or don’t believe it will affect forests in the future. This is despite risks highlighted including flooding, drought, wind and fire.

Dr Gabriel Hemery, Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation and survey co-ordinator, said: “We are passionate at Sylva about working with the many thousands of owners and forestry professionals whose voices are not often heard. The weight of the response to this survey will allow their views and experiences to inform policy and practice for years to come. We are grateful to all those who took part, and indebted to our partner organisations for their support.”

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust CEO said: “The survey results give the industry some real insight into how our woodlands are changing. We hope the survey will help to stimulate discussion at the conference in order to help kick-start a unified approach to understand the issues more fully, tackle challenges we face as a sector together, and identify a way forward to help create a resilient landscape for the future.”

Simon Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Royal Forestry Society (RFS), whose membership includes many of the private woodland owners of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, says : “The survey shows that most woodland owners are already experiencing the adverse impacts of pests and disease in their woods and expect this trend to continue in future. Survey respondents recognise the need to improve the resilience of their woods to environmental change. The challenge is to provide woodland owners with the evidence base to support long term decisions on species choice and management systems. A lot more work is required in this area.”

 

Of the survey respondents, 821 (56%) were private woodland owners, with professional agents responsible for managing 3473 woodlands and 13 specialist tree nurseries with a combined annual turnover of more than £7.5m also taking part.

The information from the survey will be used by organisations, policy makers and researchers to help improve the resilience of the nation’s forests, and how better support can be provided to woodland owners and managers. The results will also inform the government’s National Adaptation Programme for England.

A full report will be published before the end of the year and made freely available at www.sylva.org.uk/bws


Notes to Editors

The British Woodlands Survey is a series of surveys undertaken to gather evidence about the nations’ woodlands and those who care for them. The British Woodlands Survey is co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation with support from a large number of organisations. The 2015 survey on the theme of resilience was sponsored by Forestry Commission England, Oxford University, and Woodland Trust. www.sylva.org.uk/bws

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) is an educational charity and one of the oldest membership organisations for those actively involved in woodland management. The RFS believes bringing neglected woods back into management and sharing knowledge on how to manage woods to a high standard is vital to the long term health of our woods and trees. Our policies identify what is required to ensure our woods deliver their full economic, environmental and public benefits. For information go to www.rfs.org.uk. Follow us: Twitter: @royal_forestry, Facebook: Royal Forestry Society – RFS, Linked- In: Royal Forestry Society

The Sylva Foundation is an environmental charity working to revive Britain’s wood culture. It works across Britain caring for forests, to ensure they thrive for people and for nature, and supporting innovation in home-grown wood. Sylva’s forestry think-tank, Forestry Horizons, is the home of the British Woodlands Survey series, which was launched in 2012. Its myForest service is used by more than 3000 woodland owners and agents across Britain. It supports forest education through a number of initiatives, and is fostering businesses at the Sylva Wood Centre in Oxfordshire, which opened in 2015. www.sylva.org.uk Contact: Dr Gabriel Hemery, Chief Executive. 01865 408016 (direct dial) or 07759 141438 (mobile). gabriel@sylva.org.uk

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. The Trust has three key aims:  i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife. Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.


4 Comments

  1. I suggest that commercially exploited (I don’t mean the term derogatorily) woodland will be more prone to adverse effects and that among private (and in the main non commercial woodland owners) we don’t see these affects on the same scale because we manage differently, having regard more for the environment and able to diversify and plant (or not plant) in a way that protects it. I will continue to plant English oak rather than seeds sourced from the south of France. I will not be here to see the outcome however.

    Comment by L Rolfs — October 2, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

  2. You have hit the nail on the head. Private owners of non commercial forests tend to see the question of substantial change in terms of their tenure of ownership 40 years?, rather than in terms of the life of the trees they are planting 100-150 years. I have planted both French and English oak seed. The French is more susceptible to a late frost but has greater rate of growth when there is no May frost. Both hopefully will be contributing seed in 50 years time and will have the opportunity to fight it out.

    Comment by John Pitcairn — October 9, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

  3. As an agent in northern England, we have inherited many large conifer plantings on old coalfield sites; and now we are felling or thinning them, and so we have allowed for their natural regeneration. Whilst the original conifers regrow, we also get many other species, natives like oak, ash, birch and willow, as well as non native poplar, red oak and maples. We now leave this to diversify the woodland and can only hope that this is resilient for any future climate changes.

    Comment by jb — November 6, 2015 @ 4:40 pm

  4. I have a tree nursery and have been planting woodlands in England for 30 years. I favour planting with a wide variety of suitable species, including understorey trees, in an intimate mixture. With good management these woods will form a resilient woodland ecosystem. Growing trees as a crop, particularly a monoculture, makes an inherently unstable ecosystem, like putting all your eggs in one basket for 70 years or more.

    Comment by Hugh Dorrington — November 7, 2015 @ 2:10 pm

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