There has been much discussion about the benefits of tree planting and the crucial role of woodland in the fight against climate change. However, there are counter arguments about the impact that tree planting can have on our existing environments and that productive forests have little role to play.
The good news is that the UK has a robust and widely welcomed forestry standard in place – the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) – which the Forestry Commission is responsible for implementing in England.
It has been developed over the past 30 plus years as a direct response to the ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992. There are 41 legal requirements, 61 good practice requirements and 312 guideline bullets defining the UK’s approach to sustainable forest management in terms of biodiversity, water, soils, climate change, people, historic environment and landscape.
The UKFS is a requirement for accessing forestry grants, for receiving a felling licence and for obtaining consent to plant a new woodland larger than two hectares in any landscape and for smaller woodlands in sensitive landscapes, under the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations.
The Forestry Commission assesses woodland creation proposals against the UKFS before giving approval and carrying out checks to ensure that woodland owners and managers comply with forestry regulations. Taken together, this robust regulatory framework prevents the establishment of monoculture plantations, trees being planted on deep peat or on valuable priority habitats and provides a high level of scrutiny to protect landscapes and the wider environment.
All woodland is good to plant, as long as it is UKFS compliant and has received regulatory consent. We need new native woodland, established either through planting or natural colonisation where we are confident it will succeed.
We also need mixed woodlands and productive forests to satisfy society’s demand for timber – we produce only 20% of the timber that we use in the UK. We are also going to need more intensively managed, but well-designed, short rotation forestry to provide a feedstock for the future bio-economy. If we do not produce sustainable timber in our own woodlands, it will come from elsewhere where our high environmental standards may not be upheld.
As for wood used for pallets or fencing, what is the alternative? Steel, concrete and high density plastic, requiring large quantities of energy for their production and drawing on limited natural resources, rather than sustainably grown timber.
With the government commitment to plant up to 30,000 hectares of trees per year, across the UK, by 2025, the UKFS will be more important than ever. It will ensure that the standards for the planning, design and sustainable management of forests and woodlands in the UK use an approach based on internationally recognised science and best practice, with the right tree, planted in the right place and for the right reasons.
Reference: The Forestry Commission https://forestrycommission.blog.gov.uk/2020/07/17/right-tree-right-place-right-reason/