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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.


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What do you think about environmental change, and what are you doing about it?

posted on July 31, 2015

A national survey is launched today aiming is to help understand progress in awareness and actions in adapting to environmental change among woodland owners and managers (including agents), tree nursery businesses, and forestry professionals.

A Wordle from the 2015 Resilience Accord

A Wordle from the text of the 2015 Resilience Accord

Environmental change may mean any change or disturbance of the environment caused by human influences and/or natural ecological processes. As such the survey will be exploring climate change, pests, pathogens, flooding, wind and fire, and will be seeking to explore how resilient our forests are to change. The information gathered will be used by organisations, policy makers and researchers to help improve the resilience of the nation’s forests. The results will inform the government’s National Adaptation Programme.

The survey is part of a wider suite of activities related to resilience including the drafting of an Accord, which is a call from across the forestry sector for action to be taken to ensure our trees, woods and forests are more resilient. Organisations with an interest in trees, forestry and landowners have also produced ‘Adaptation in Action’ statements, to explain their individual views on issues and the actions they are taking to improve resilience.

The British Woodlands Survey 2015 on Resilience is supported by a very wide number of partners, with funding provided by the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust. It is hosted and co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation.

British Woodlands Survey 2015

Read more and Take the Survey

Take the survey and read more about the resilience activities at www.sylva.org.uk/bws. The survey remains open until end of August.

 


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A brave new world for woodland managers

posted on January 15, 2015

A report published today 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.

British Woodlands Survey 2015 report

British Woodlands Survey 2015 report. Click to access.

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?

Woodlands cover 13% of the UK’s land area and almost three quarters of this (2,283,000 ha; Forestry Commission 2015) is privately owned. This means that the actions of private woodland owners and managers, rather than public bodies such as the Forestry Commission, are likely to have the greatest effect both on the vitality of our woodlands, and on any contribution we can make to mitigating the effects of climate change. However, questions have never been asked of woodland owners and managers about their awareness, actions or aspirations relating to environmental change, or how well they may be following the guidelines of the UKFS.

Earlier in 2015 a group of ten leading forestry and woodland organisations 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 main report of the the survey is published.

The survey attracted responses from 1509 people including: 827 private woodland owners; 182 forestry agents; 235 other tree and forestry professionals (e.g. NGO staff, forestry contractors); and 19 tree nursery businesses. Responses were received from across the whole of the UK: most private woodland owners were located in England, while agents proportionally represented more properties than owners in Scotland and Wales. The respondents represented an area of woodland, managed by owners or their agents, covering 247,891 ha; equal to 11% of all privately-owned woodlands in the UK.

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. I believe that 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 overwhelming and 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 (see below).

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.
  7. Uncertainty around the concept of provenance/origin, improved planting stock and genetic diversity points to a requirement for improvements in education and the communication of scientific and practical evidence.
  8. Low levels of awareness and action in relation to biosecurity among owners, which was only marginally better among professional foresters, suggests that there is a need to review whether current guidance on biosecurity and risk assessment is appropriate and provides directions for the design and communication of predictive modelling.
  9. Targeted funding to support actions which might benefit the resilience of woodlands, in particular pest (vertebrate and invertebrate) management and control, would be highly beneficial.
  10. Many of the actions for increasing resilience will flow from good management planning and levels of understanding of the issues, both of which appear to be insufficient. The high number of woodlands without a management plan will undermine attempts to improve resilience.

 


Further Information

About the British Woodlands Survey:
The British Woodlands Survey (BWS) gathers evidence about the UK’s woodlands and those who care for them. It aims to provide a voice for private woodland owners and forestry professionals, and an evidence base on which future policies and practice can be developed. BWS2015 is the third survey in the series. The British Woodlands Survey is co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation within its think-tank Forestry Horizons.

Download full report of BWS2015:
The report is available free to download at: www.sylva.org.uk/forestryhorizons/bws2015

Report citation:    
Hemery, G., Petrokofsky, G., Ambrose-Oji, B., Atkinson, G., Broadmeadow, M., Edwards, D., Harrison, C., Lloyd, S., Mumford, J., O’Brien, L., Reid, C., Seville, M., Townsend, M., Weir, J., and Yeomans, A., (2015). Awareness, action and aspiration among Britain’s forestry community relating to environmental change: Report of the British Woodlands Survey 2015. www.sylva.org.uk/forestryhorizons/bws2015

Partners:
The 2015 survey was supported by an Advisory Group comprising representatives of Climate Ready, Confor, Country Land & Business Association, Forestry Commission England, Forest Research, Natural England, Royal Forestry Society, Sylva Foundation, University of Oxford, and Woodland Trust.

Climate Change Accord:
Over 30 organisations with an interest in UK forestry signed the 2015 Climate Change Accord which states:

“We believe that it is necessary to act now to provide a secure future for our forests, woods and trees, that significant changes are required to widely-accepted and practiced systems of management to make them resilient, and we are committed to help realise the vision set out in this Accord.”

 


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