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Likely impacts of climate change on England's woodlands

There is considerable uncertainty about how trees, woods and forests in England will respond to climate change, but this must not be used as a reason to prevaricate, because our research and knowledge is informing us to expect the follow likely impacts:

  • The current range of broadleaf species, assuming appropriate species and origin/provenance is used, will most likely remain suitable for forestry across much of England. Towards the end of the century, south and east England are likely to prove the exception.

  • Where water is not a limiting factor, tree growth rates are predicted to increase as a result of longer growing seasons, increased warmth and the rising level of CO2.

  • Conifer crops currently in the ground are likely to reach maturity before there are any serious impacts.

  • Tree pests and diseases, both those present in the UK and those that may be introduced, are likely to remain a greater threat to woodlands than the direct effects of climate change.

  • The impacts of climate change are likely to be first seen with declining tree health in some species, increasingly difficult establishment, and limited mortality. However, as climate change progresses, some mature trees will die as a result of both direct and indirect impacts.

  • Even where the composition of the tree canopy of woodlands remains unchanged, the composition, structure and character of the ground flora may change significantly.

  • It is very likely that climate change will have serious impacts on drought sensitive tree species on shallow free-draining soils, particularly in southern and eastern England.

  • Extreme rainfall is likely to cause flooding and the current forest road drainage network may be inadequate.

  • Higher frequency of winter gales leading to increased levels of damage and earlier onset of windblow.

  • Forest fires are almost certain to become an increasing factor affecting the condition and longevity of some woods and forest areas in sensitive areas.

  • Forests are likely to be increasingly seen as a cool shady refuge for healthy exercise, but public access to the forests may be interrupted by closures due to storm damage, and roads and paths being washed away.