Adapting England's woodland to climate change - main issues

  • Current projections suggest that areas of south, central and eastern England will have drier and warmer summers, resulting in increasingly severe soil moisture deficits which will reduce tree growth – particularly on shallow, south facing slopes, and sandy-textured, freely draining soils.
  • Drought tolerant species and changes to silvicultural systems should be introduced on sites vulnerable to drought.
  • By mixing species within forest areas and by amending silvicultural systems (where appropriate), it should be possible to reduce and spread the risk of climatic impacts on forests.
  • Warmer growing seasons and rising CO2 concentrations will stimulate productivity and timber production where soil water and nutrient availability allows. Increases of 2-4 m3 ha-1 yr-1 in upland conifer forests of the north and west of England may result. Improved growth may also occur, initially, in more southerly regions, although species will need to be matched carefully to site conditions.
  • Changes in the seasonality of rainfall have occurred gradually over the past century, and this trend is projected to continue and to intensify in the future. The resulting wetter autumn and winter periods will cause greater water table fluctuations, limit rooting depth, and reduce tree stability on exposed sites.
  • Changes in the wind climate are highly uncertain but, with reduced anchorage on wet sites, the risk of windthrow will increase.
  • The incidence and severity of tree disease and pest outbreaks will increase. A warmer climate and, particularly, warmer winters will allow tree pests and pathogens to extend their range.
  • Climate change presents new opportunities for the forestry sector, particularly the planting of new woodlands to sequester carbon and provide wood fibre and timber products for future generations; but these new woodlands must also be resilient to the impacts of climate change.