Forestry Commission England has set up a project at Jeskyn’s in Kent that demonstrates one approach of work to ensure that new woodlands are resilient to climate change. The demonstration woodland is divided into a ‘woodland of the present’ and a ‘woodland of the future’. The trees planted in both parts of the wood are made up of similar, mainly native, species but the woodland of the future contains some that are likely to be more resilient to hotter and drier climates. Some of these species, including small-leafed lime and hornbeam, are native to the British Isles, but a small number of non-native species have also been included in the ‘woodland of the future’. The seeds used to grow the trees in the ‘woodland of the future’ have been collected from warmer areas of Europe.
The aim of the woodland is two-fold. The first objective was to create a diverse woodland, which is resilient and able to adapt to predicted climate change, but one which does not change the nature of a native woodland landscape. In particular, it should continue to provide habitats for the butterflies, birds and insects that are familiar woodland species in Britain. The second objective was to engage people in the work needed to tackle the impacts of climate change, and how changes in temperature and water availability could affect Britain’s landscape in the future. Dr Mark Broadmeadow is leading the project.
"Not all of the tree species are different between the two parts of the wood, but the species representation varies depending on their resilience. We have planted some trees that are close relatives to our native species, but their distribution is restricted to continental Europe. The idea is to demonstrate how we could adapt our planting of woodlands to cope with future changes. For example, there is downy birch and Scots pine in the ‘present’ woodland, and silver birch and pinaster pine in the ‘future’ woodland. We want to be able to compare how different species thrive and survive as temperatures change.
The introduction of non-native trees to the UK has sometimes proved controversial, and some people may question the benefits of introducing a species that does not naturally coexist with the flora and fauna found in Britain. However, we have to consider the fact that, if climate change predictions prove to be accurate, then we have to think about how we can prepare and protect our woodlands to ensure that we have sustainable forests and woodlands for future generations of people to enjoy. We’re not saying that this approach should be widely adopted now, but it is something we may well need to consider as the impacts of climate change become more apparent."
Forestry Commission England will monitor the demonstration wood at Jeskyn’s regularly to identify the strengths of the individual species – and their failures. The findings of the project will inform plans for planting new trees and woodlands across the public forest estate in England.