Trees and plants may not be able to speak, but already they are beginning to tell us that climate change is real – and it is beginning to impact on the environment.
The cold winter, coupled with near drought conditions over the last two months, has brought the countryside into a burst of blooms – as our flora prepare their own fight with changing weather conditions.
"When trees and other plants are placed under stress because of the cold and water shortages they can’t turn on a gas fire or switch on a tap," said Dr Helen Cariss of FUTUREforest, Wales, an inter-regional European project looking at climate change and the key role trees and forests play.
"Instead they do the only thing that they can to ensure their gene pool survives and produce more seeds - which is why there have been so many more flowers this year."
And at a FUTUREforest conference in Bulgaria the team heard from its Brandenburg partners that the severe weather conditions of the last 12 months have already made a major impact.
"The trees may not be able to give voice to what is happening, but there is a 30 per cent decrease in the growth rate in our forests," FUTUREforest leader Georg Wagener Lohse told delegates.
"This a warning to us all. Climate Change is real, it is already having an effect and if we do not react then there will be very real problems tomorrow."
The seven region team had gathered in the Bulgarian capital to pull together the outline for their all Europe report – being drafted now - which will help show policy-makers and politicians the massive benefits regional and national Governments can gain by looking afresh at their forest resource.
The team of experts from the EU INTERREG IVC and Welsh Assembly sponsored project are set to change the thinking on climate – and show how the challenges provide fantastic opportunities for forests.
FUTUREforest, run here by Forestry Commission Wales, believes that by working together the seven regions found how forests can best help combat that change and how we can adapt our forests to do so.
And at the Royal Welsh Show (Confor Stand, Forestry Section) they will be explaining how they have brought together all the latest thinking on water management, natural risk, timber production, carbon management, soil protection and biodiversity on best practice based on their shared knowledge.
The focus for the Welsh team’s project manager from Forestry Commission Wales, Dr Helen Cariss, is on water management.
"It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across Wales are at risk from flooding – but trees and woodlands could help reduce that risk," she said.
She is working with researchers to develop good practice guides on using our woodland to help reduce downstream flooding.
Meanwhile experts from the other partner regions are specialising in other areas - Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon management).
"There is some really exciting work going on across all the regions, and we will be showcasing our initial conclusions for the first time at the Royal Welsh, with a draft final report being available at our conference - ‘FUTUREforest – helping Europe meet the challenge of Climate Change’ at the Pierhead, Cardiff 18-19 November," said Helen.
"Learning from other regions, many of which have similar challenges to ourselves, helps us to short cut costly research, which would take a long time to conduct and also to identify new methods of best practice," she added.
NOTES TO EDITORS
FUTUREforest is a three year INTERREG IVC programme funded by the EU and the Welsh Assembly 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)
Contact: Guy Pargeter, Taliesin Communications – Tel: 01970 832375
Forestry Commission Wales
Forestry Commission Wales is responsible for FUTUREforest in Wales.
About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to the private sector and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences.
Forestry Commission Wales is also part of Forestry Commission GB and contributes to the international forestry agenda.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales