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Climate threats to UK forests set out in national risk assessment

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The threats and opportunities posed by climate change to the United Kingdom’s forests and woodland were set out in the national Climate Change Risk Assessment published by the UK Government today.

The risk assessment is a comprehensive analysis of the threats and opportunities faced by a wide range of habitats, landscapes and services over the next century as the climate warms. Expected consequences of a warming climate are rising temperatures, increased periods and severity of drought, and increased incidence and severity of storms and flooding.

The risk assessment was compiled by a consortium that included the Forestry Commission's Forest Research agency. Among the risks identified to forests and forest industries were that:

  • the productivity of commercial tree species could change due to drought, and declining timber yield is particularly likely in England, where, without measures to prevent it, it could decline by between 10 and 25 per cent in South East England by the 2080s; and
  • an increasing threat to trees and woodland from tree pests and diseases, many of which are likely to thrive in warmer conditions.

There are also likely to be a number of opportunities for the forestry sector, including:

  • rising timber yields in Scotland and other areas of the UK where water supply is not limiting; and
  • the ability to plant timber species that have not been suited to the UK’s climate in the past.

Tim Rollinson, Forestry Commission Director-General, said,

“We welcome the publication of the national Climate Change Risk Assessment, and we will contribute fully to the National Adaptation Programme.

“We have been working for a decade to identify the climate change risks to the UK’s forests, and we have identified and begun to carry out a forest management programme to address these risks, as well as making appropriate guidance available to other woodland managers. This includes planting tree species that research shows are best suited to the predicted climate of the future. Through the National Forest Inventory, we will monitor the condition of our forests, allowing us to react promptly to the changing climate.

“Also last year we published for the first time a Climate Change Guidelines document as part of the suite of Guidelines that support the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS).

“These measures will go a long way to ensuring that the UK’s woods and forests are as well adapted and resilient as possible to the kind of climate we expect in the future, and also that they will play a full role in helping wider society to manage and adapt to the changing conditions.”

The full national Climate Change Risk Assessment is available from the
Defra website at

The UKFS Climate Change Guidelines document is available from


1. In addition to the two main threats identified above, a range of other threats to the natural environment could also have an impact on woodland landscapes and habitats. These include:

  • greater frequency of wildfires;
  • loss of animals and plants as their ‘climate space’ moves;
  • loss of native species under the impact of the arrival of invasive non-native species that thrive in the warming conditions;
  • the inability of some ‘specialist’ species of plants and animals to adapt to changing conditions;
  • growing pressure on the quantity and quality of water resources; and 
  • drier conditions leading to a decline in habitats that rely on a cool, wet climate, such as peatlands.

2. Growing trees can help to mitigate climate change by removing from the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that is one of the main “greenhouse gases” that are causing it. Many people and organisations are keen to plant trees and woodlands to do this, and to support them the Forestry Commission recently launched the UK Woodland Carbon Code. Certification against the standards of the Code provides an assurance to investors in such “carbon forestry” projects that the woodlands will be sustainably managed to national standards and will provide the carbon benefits claimed by their promoters. For further information visit

News media contact: Charlton Clark, 07810 181067.