Vegetation management is a vital component of sustainable woodland management. However, recent developments in policy, in particular pressure to reduce the reliance on chemicals, have introduced significant challenges for woodland managers.
Woodland management can have many objectives such as for example:
- Timber or wood fuel production
- Habitat restoration
- Protecting or enhancing biodiversity
- Providing a resource for recreation.
These objectives can be achieved using a variety of management systems, such as continuous cover forestry, clearfelling and replanting, or restoration.
However, whatever the objective or management system adopted, at some stage a manager will need to favour the development of trees and other desirable vegetation over less desirable, competitive plants. Without suitable vegetation management, the primary objectives for the woodland are often unachievable.
Pesticides in the UK are subject to a tight regulatory framework, and their safe use requires careful and often complex planning. Despite this, due to their effectiveness and relatively low economic cost, since the 1970’s managers have come to depend on the use of herbicides to manipulate vegetation. However, recent developments in European and national policy mean that there is increasing pressure to reduce this reliance, and to consider alternative approaches.
Challenges facing woodland managers:
- A pressure to reduce reliance on herbicides and adopt non-chemical methods of vegetation management
- A lack of economically viable non-chemical approaches, set against a background of sustained pressure to minimise costs associated with woodland management (direct alternative non-chemical approaches are often 10 – 1000 times more expensive)
- Increasing complexity of regulations and methodologies required for sustainable plant protection product use
- A reduction in the range and function of approved plant protection products
- Controlling the spread of alien and native invasive weeds within established woodlands, a challenge which may be made more problematic by climate change.
Current research is divided into two broad themes:-
This programme aims to answer the key research question:- How can we maintain the availability of pesticides as strategic tools for dealing with damaging pests, diseases and weeds, given the implementation of new pesticides regulations, the need to reduce pesticide inputs and identify non chemical alternatives, and the evolution of new biosecurity threats that may be exacerbated by climate change?
Forest Research is a Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) ‘Officially Recognised’ efficacy testing organisation, and is able to carry out Quality Assured field trials of new and existing pesticides under strictly controlled environmental conditions, following the requirements of Good Experimental Practice (GEP).
Funders and partners
This research is funded by the Forestry Commission as part of the Regeneration and sustainable silviculture programme.
Forestry Commission policy
Appropriate and sustainable vegetation management is likely to be an important underlying requirement in the delivery of a wide range of Forestry Commission country strategies.
In addition, activity in this programme derives from, amongst others, the following specific overarching policy themes:-
- The UK Forestry Standard and policy on sustainable forestry, which calls for felled woodland to be re-planted, and existing and new woodlands to be managed to deliver sustainable multiple benefits. A basic principle of the UK Forestry Standard is to minimise the use of herbicides by using them only according to the needs of the site, and only where other options are not available or uneconomic.
- The UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS), which requires managers to work towards the reduction and elimination of all synthetic pesticide use in forestry, and commits the forest industry to carrying out research into methods of reducing pesticide use in forestry and publishing the results of this research.
- UK Government policy, as detailed in the relevant country Codes of Practice, is to keep pesticide use to the lowest possible level, whilst making sure that pests, diseases and weeds are effectively controlled in a way that protects the health of people, and safeguards biodiversity, plants and the environment.
- The European Union Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides which calls on member states to minimise the risks to the environment from using pesticides and reduce their use, including substitution with non chemical alternatives.
- The European Forest Action Plan which calls for enhanced protection of forests from damaging biotic agents.
- The Forestry Commission Science and Innovation Strategy (PDF-308K) which restates the importance of research into alternatives to chemical pesticides, calls for new approaches to dealing with biotic threats, and recommends the examination of alternative regeneration techniques such as direct seeding.
The programme is reviewed at regular intervals.