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Welsh Government Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development John Griffiths is urging foresters to learn from the lessons of Europe as they plan for climate change and the future.
Speaking to leaders of the forestry sector in Wales at the Senedd this week, Mr Griffiths was highlighting findings in a new report from FUTUREforest, the Forestry Commission Wales three year INTERREG IVC project supported by the Welsh Government.
“Welsh woodlands and forests – European answers for the future” brings together all the latest best practice methods from across seven regions of Europe.
“By taking these examples on board, I am sure we can maximise the benefits of our commitment to increasing woodland areas in Wales.
“This will increase the number of recreation areas in Wales, help to ensure greater health benefits and better carbon management, and of course increase the availability of that unique renewable resource, timber,” said Mr Griffiths.
The document, which includes recommendations for a holistic approach to forestry, also highlights the opportunities that timber can provide to help tackle the challenges of changing weather patterns.
“But thanks to FUTUREforest we are aware of the threats that face us as we have seen some of the effects that have impacted other regions of Europe which are already dealing with the consequences of climate change,” said FUTUREforest project manager Dr Helen Cariss.
Forest Research in Wales is currently trialling ways in which green engineering, such as riparian tree planting and creating woody debris dams, can help reduce the risk of flooding in Wales.
Latest figures from Environment Agency Wales show that one in six properties in Wales is at risk of flooding - over 375,000 properties in total.
“This problem is not going to go away, and the green engineering methods of flood control can provide cheap, efficient and sustainable techniques to improve our flood defences,” said Dr Cariss. “Forests and trees also improve water quality by reducing erosion and by filtering pollutants and sediments.”
As well as sharing latest methods from Wales, lessons have been learned from the other six FUTUREforest partner regions.
In Brandenburg, for example, lower rainfall has resulted in water stress in their pine plantations, allowing pests to take hold and decimating forests. Foresters have responded by planting "plastic forests", a mix of species which are not all vulnerable to the same pests.
In the Auvergne, foresters are creating forests with mixed species and mixed age. Planting these diverse forests ensures the future of the forest whatever the climate – if some fail, others with different characteristics will survive.
Meanwhile, in Latvia forest researchers are breeding new strains of their traditional tree species with special characteristics which will enable them to adapt to the changes in climate.
These trees are also expected to lock away carbon more quickly, highly productive species which grow quickly, converting atmospheric carbon into timber which can then be used for construction, replacing high carbon emission concrete and steel structures.
“The Welsh Government is committed to its aim of creating an additional 100,000 hectares of new forests by 2030 partly through Glastir. We believe that the work completed by FUTUREforest can help to guide that afforestation for the maximum benefit of Wales,” Dr Cariss added.
Contact: Helen Cariss, FUTUREforest, Wales project manager, on 0300 068 0087; Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications, on 01970 832375.
FUTUREforest is a three year INTERREG IVC programme funded by the EU and the Welsh government. It aims to identify the threats, weaknesses and strengths of Europe’s forest as they face up to climate change; developing best management techniques to guide policy makers and stakeholders.
It also aims to improve and adapt regional and local forest management policies and practices focusing on water balance, soil, biodiversity, timber and non-timber forest products, air quality including carbon sequestration, and natural risk like fires, pests and pathogens.
The objective is to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies and contribute to the economic modernisation and increased competitiveness of Europe through exchange, sharing and transfer of policy experience, knowledge and good practices in woodland management.
The project will provide political decision makers and other stakeholders in European regions with the knowledge, tools and approaches to enable effective forestry/regional development policies and forest management practices.
It also intends to identify opportunities resulting from climate change including increased biomass production - and therefore carbon sequestration - due to changes in rainfall pattern and higher temperatures.
The partners include Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration).
Forestry Commission Wales is responsible for FUTUREforest in Wales. About 14 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government. Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf. More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales