At just 13% of total UK land area (10% in England), forests and woodland are a less significant part of the landscape than in many countries. What is more, they are dominated by relatively few tree species, many grown in monocultures, with potential implications for long-term resilience. The Forestry Commission, the non-ministerial government department responsible for the management and regulation of publicly owned forests (the public forest estate), also regulates private forestry in England. At one time, the Forestry Commission managed almost 700,000 hectares in England and Scotland, making it the UK’s biggest land manager.
The importance of forests and woodlands in mitigation and adaptation policy was recognised over a decade ago in the UK government-commissioned Reed Report, Combating climate change – a role for UK forests (2009). Today, the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) sets out the government’s approach to sustainable forest management, including diversification and other strategies.
Following a commitment in the government’s 2013 National Adaptation Programme, a Forestry Climate Change Working Group (FCCWG), convened by the governmental agency the Forestry Commission, has been operating as a cross-sector initiative including public and private organisations. It represents the 35 signatories to the 2015 Forestry Climate Change Accord. FCCWG’s Action Plan (England) (2018) is consistent with activities related to the Tree Health Resilience Strategy (2018). The FCCWG’s Plan contains 13 priorities, identifies lead organisations for specific actions and provides a basis for monitoring progress with actions.
This has encouraged diversification. While the need to increase the percentage of forest land under active management is relatively uncontroversial, there is disagreement regarding the wisdom of introducing non-native species into native woodlands to cope with the effects of the climate change already happening. To secure grants and licences, the Forestry Commission asks applicants to verify their choice of species using an ecological site classification tool.