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  • Forestry in the UK: Sorting the facts from the fiction

Forestry in the UK: Sorting the facts from the fiction

It is a privilege to be surrounded by trees. Their ability to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks and branches makes trees a powerful resource for creating a sustainable built environment.

It may sometimes seem confusing that we are as keen to cut down trees as we are to plant them. Unlike many other building materials, wood can be reused, repaired and recycled in multiple ways, and it is also a naturally renewable product. 

In fact, the more trees we grow in a sustainable way, the more we can fell for building material and the more CO2 is stored from the atmosphere. It is a naturally circular cycle.

In the face of myths about the UK forestry industry, we wanted to arm you with the facts. We've listed 10 facts about the UK forestry industry that can help you distinguish fact from fiction:

Fact 1: It is possible to plant enough trees to ensure a balance between sequestering (capturing) carbon and providing timber for building materials.

The reason this has not been done at scale can be attributed to a lack of support from the government and policy making. Now that the government is serious about tackling climate change and meeting its net zero target of 2050, it has pledged to rapidly increase forestry in the UK. In November’s spending review, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £92m will be made available from April 2021 to help plant 30,000 hectares of trees in England per year, thus capturing carbon and boosting biodiversity.

Increasing forestry creates more opportunities for homegrown timber, which creates more jobs and contributes directly to the UK economy. Forest management schemes ensure that there are enough mature trees available for harvesting while younger trees do the job of capturing carbon.

 

Fact 2: Leaving old trees to do all the work is not the most efficient way.

Maintaining a consistent turnover of trees is fundamental to maximising carbon capture. In new research released in September, it recognised that young trees capture carbon quickly enough to make a difference.

The key is to ensure a mix of new and old trees and diversity of species. Careful planning and understanding of a forest is vital to the success of the trees being able to do their job.

In the Confor report ‘Biodiversity, Forestry and Wood’, evidence shows that young forests and non-native species of trees have significant biodiversity value.

Fact 3: There is ample space within the UK to increase forestry.

Latest figures show there is 3.2 million hectares of woodland in the UK. This equates to approximately 13% of land in the UK being dedicated to forestry. In the UK Committee on Climate Change report ‘Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK’, it recommends increasing this by 4%, hence the government’s target of 30,000 hectares of tree planting per year.

In Wales, where homegrown timber and forestry investment is further along than in England, many agricultural landowners have opted to grow trees instead, which is often a more lucrative investment for them. This is a positive step forward to increase forestry.

Fact 4: There are standards in place to support forestry management.

Though take-up is lower than desired and there is still much work to be done in his area, the latest British Woodland Survey highlights that interest in UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) compliant management is on the rise.

The UKFS promotes sustainable forest management and is overseen by Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Forest Service and the Forestry Commission in England and Scotland.

Another standard, the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) verifies sustainable woodland management and is part of both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certification schemes.

Eleanor Harris, policy researcher at Confor, said in a recent interview:

“The UK’s wood-producing productive forests, managed under UKFS and UKWAS, are delivering significant benefits for biodiversity which deserve recognition in land management discussions.”

Fact 5: Tropical forests can be both beautiful and a working forest.

There will always be a need for some timber to be imported and there are legal measures in place to protect the world’s rainforests.

Forest certification programmes, the FSC and the PEFC, protect and promote sustainable forest management. Both organisations work with the supply chain and relevant industry bodies to ensure timber imported to and exported from the UK is legal and certified.

Certification provides a stamp of approval that a supplier has legally and sustainably sourced the timber. It also protects the environment, economy and people within the area of the forest the timber is sourced from. Neglecting to source timber in this way is illegal.

Fact 6: Protecting wildlife, biodiversity and preventing loss of habitat is achieved with effective forest management.

The ‘Biodiversity, Forestry and Wood’ report highlights the positive impact of modern forestry and wood production in the UK. The benefits include:

  1. The significant biodiversity value attributed to forests planted for wood production
  2. Improved condition of native woodlands used for wood production
  3. Natural capital benefits extending beyond the forests e.g. reducing flooding, improved air quality.

The forestry industry is ready to deliver these benefits and for the UK to gain from home-grown timber and the biodiversity it can bring.

Fact 7: The uses for timber are wide-reaching.

Structural systems for buildings, fencing, interiors and furniture can all be made from timber.

Wood delivers on innovative design, speed, cost and resource efficiency, and offers a path to a low carbon economy. By specifying appropriate timber species and products for each application, architects and building users can be assured that those timber products will last for a long time.

Fact 8: CO2 released during the milling and manufacturing process (embodied carbon) can be offset.

Using timber for construction and joinery products is one way to balance out the carbon emitted during the milling, manufacturing and construction phase.

Another option is signing up to a scheme such as CarbonStore. Established by Tilhill, a BSW group member, any organisation from any industry looking to offset their carbon emissions can do so through investing in woodlands. Using the Woodland Carbon Code, calculations are made, and a business partnership is established with the farmers and landowners. The company invests and offsets their annual carbon emissions and the farmers and landowners can increase their woodland size.

Fact 9: Increased forestry will create and maintain more jobs and will contribute to the economy.

England has shown some promise following the planting of more than 200,000 trees at the Lowther Estate in Cumbria, one of the largest schemes in the country. Assisted by lobbying from Confor, the forest has also created more jobs. Another success story, also lobbied by Confor, is Doddington Moor in Northumberland. This is the largest project in England in 30 years and it is hoped it will spur on many more. Since its establishment in 1995, The National Forest in the Midlands has grown and the area has benefited from job creation, increased woodland skills and a lower carbon economy.

In the spending review, the pledged £92 million for planting more trees is also expected to create 1,000 new jobs.

There is so much potential for a thriving UK forestry industry, which already contributes £2bn annually to the economy, yet 81% of wood products used in the UK are imported.

Fact 10: If forestry is not increased now, the UK will suffer a supply decline.

A target has been set by the government for tree planting, but efforts and funding will need to be ramped up now. Between 1 April and 30 September this year, only 763 hectares of trees were planted. It is clear we have a long way to go to meet the 30,000 hectare annual target from April 2021.

In Scotland, a consortium of timber industry organisations have collaborated to push for the use of homegrown Scottish timber. The group has secured funding from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to present a business case to the UK construction industry to consider Scottish timber before imports. The research has begun and will be shared at COP 26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

 Wood CO2ts less – The Forestry Story

Using wood from sustainably managed forests instead of other materials is a simple way to help reduce carbon emissions. One hectare of forestry captures 483 tonnes of CO2 over a 40-year cycle. This is stored safely when converted to timber and wood products and with trees re-planted, the process can start over again.

If we can increase forestry in the UK we can sequester more carbon. And if we build with more wood we can create a built environment that contributes to the slowing of climate change. You can find out more about the Wood CO2ts less campaign and what we strive for here.

 

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