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Helping our forests adapt to climate change

Cutting a sample of Red Band Needle Blight Species and provenance choice
Forest managers have to consider whether their woodlands will survive in a future climate. Forest Research are currently carrying out a number of species trials across the country to look at which species or provenances might be better suited to the climate of the future. The difficulty lies in ensuring that decisions made now are appropriate to both the current and future climate, and cover the considerable uncertainty over what the future climate will be. Ensuring that a forest is diverse, in terms of age structure, species and origin, will help to provide it with the resilience to cope with changing conditions.

Ecological Site Classification (ESC)
ESC is a computer based system to help guide forest managers and planners to identify how species being considered for woodland creation or restocking may respond to climate change.

New natives?
Current UK policy encourages the planting of local provenances of native species, because these are likely to be adapted to local conditions. However these species and provenances may not be able to adapt to a fast-changing climate. It may be necessary to re-think the importance of always choosing native species. Another solution may be to source plant stock of native species from more southerly regions, which experience a current climate similar to that predicted for our future.

Management of existing woodland
Increased productivity because of higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels mean that rotation length (the length of time it takes for a tree to be ready for felling to produce timber products) and the timing of thinning may need adjustment. Management may also need to take into account changes in storm frequency, the effects of winter waterlogging on access for management, or the timing of the planting window.

Pests and diseases
It is essential to remain vigilant in reporting new pests and diseases and altered patterns of damage. It is also necessary to think about changes in species choice in relation to potential pest and disease problems, as is shown by the current moratorium on planting of Corsican pine on the Forestry Commission estate.

Reducing other pressures
By removing or reducing other pressures on woodlands, such as invasive species and pollution, we can help to increase the resilience of our woodlands.

Landscape design
Making our existing semi-natural woodlands larger provides a buffer to environmental change – increasing their resilience. New woodlands can help to create habitat networks and linkages so that species are able to move more easily across the landscape in response to climate change.

Monitoring and evaluation
There is a great deal of uncertainty involved in predicting the exact effects of climate change. It is essential that we closely monitor the results of the actions that we take to help identify adaptation strategies for the future.