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Public Forest Estate in England


We manage the Public Forest Estate to meet the changing needs of society over the long-term.

Key Facts

  • A world leader in sustainable forest management for multiple objectives.

  • We manage over 250,000 ha of land across England to internationally recognised standards.

  • Our land management is adapting to climate change and contributes to its mitigation through sequestration and substitution.

  • A major land manager in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – supporting our finest landscapes.

  • One of the largest managers of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) with 99% in favourable or recovering condition.

  • The most extensive and popular resource for recreation in the countryside with over 220 million visits a year, and over 26 million visitors .

  • A significant deliverer of new greenspace around our cities and regeneration areas.

  • The largest producer of timber in England.

  • The largest direct means available for Government to engage in land management to deliver its objectives and demonstrate best practice.

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Current Delivery

The Government's priorities for England's trees, woods and forests, and its approach to achieving them, flow from ”The Coalition: our programme for government" (Cabinet Office 2010).

Visit our forest policy pages.

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Sustainable Development

We deliver sustainable development in practice.

Our approach is based upon:

  • a commitment towards stewardship, protecting and enhancing our natural resources over the longterm;

  • our expertise in reconciling social, economic and environmental objectives through multi-purpose forest plans which involve local communities and respond to the distinctive priorities in each region;

  • our ability to translate policy into delivery and our experience of engaging markets to deliver a wide range of services to recognised standards.

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Communities and Places

  • We help to improve the quality of people’s lives.

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Involving Communities

  • We manage each wood to plans which have been developed through consultation with local communities and statutory agencies.

  • We encourage and support a growing number of volunteers as community rangers providing an increasing range of local services.

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Access for All

The public forest estate is the most extensive resource for outdoor recreation and healthy exercise in the country with an estimated 226 million visits a year.

  • We have a long history of welcoming public access.

  • We have dedicated in perpetuity the right of access on foot to 90% of the freehold area under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW).

  • We allow free access on horseback or by bicycle to the majority of the estate. Around 10 million visits a year are made by mountain bikers.

  • There is a wide range of activities and facilities for all interests and abilities.

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Green Spaces

  • We have created 3,500 ha of woodlands over the last 10 years to provide new green space and a better environment in the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, the cities of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, the Thames Gateway Growth Area and the National Forest.

  • Our technical expertise and ability to hold land for public benefit in the long-term has made us a delivery partner of choice for the Government’s regeneration agencies such as English Partnerships, Groundwork, the Land Restoration Trust and private companies.

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The Forestry Commission Estate in the Regions

Region Area


North East England 61,700
North West England 28,000
Yorkshire and the Humber 21,800
East Midlands 19,600
West Midlands 13,500
South West England 36,900
South East England 49,600
East England 26,400
London 300

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Forestry Commission Visitor Facilities

  • The estate serves as a natural classroom with over 140,000 education-based visits a year.

  • We promote opportunities to visit and use the estate through the FC website, leaflets and over 1,000 Active Woods events each year.

Visitor Facilities

Visitor Facilities

Waymarked walks 177 
Cycling centres 106
Equestrian facilities 73
Forest drives 15
Visitor centres 28
Camp sites 24
Art installations 16

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Mitigating Climate Change

The public forest estate helps to mitigate climate change by:

  • storing 20 million tonnes of carbon in trees and shrubs and 50 million tonnes in forest soils and peat lands;

  • supplying wood as a substitute for materials with higher embodied energy and as a source of renewable energy;

  • providing a large land holding to serve as a focal point for landscape scale adaptation measures.

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Landscape Scale Approach

  • The extent of the estate makes it natural for us to plan and manage at the landscape scale. We are now using these skills with partners and neighbouring landowners to protect landscapes, restore habitat networks and provide land-based solutions for mitigating the risk of floods. This new role is exemplified in the Lake District, the Brecklands and the Blackdown Hills AONB.

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Designated Areas

  • 150,000 ha or 60% of the estate is located within National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs and is managed under plans agreed with Park officers and Natural England.

  • We are one of the largest manager of SSSIs. 99% of SSSIs on the estate are now in favourable or recovering condition and we are well ahead of the 95% target by 2010.

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Priority Habitats and Species

  • There are over 100,000 ha of priority habitats on the estate – mostly ancient woodlands, heathland and bogs. We are one of the largest managers of heathland in NW Europe. Many forests were established in the last century on semi-natural open habitats and some ancient woodland sites were planted with conifers. We are delivering on all current targets for restoration and contributing to the England Biodiversity Strategy.

  • The estate in England hosts a wide range of priority species which are covered by active management plans. The estate is particularly important for the red squirrel, woodland butterflies and a range of endangered bird species.

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Cultural Heritage

  • We are the stewards of many of the former Royal Forests including the Forest of Dean and the New Forest and we actively promote their heritage.

  • We look after 862 Scheduled Ancient Monuments which are protected through plans agreed with English Heritage.

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Working Woodlands

The Forestry Commission is a world leader in sustainable forest management. The estate plays a key role in supporting the development of competitive forestry and the wood products industry and ensuring forestry activities deliver a wide range of public goods. We have also developed woodland-based recreation enterprises and supported others to build similar sustainable businesses.

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Sustainable Forest Management

  • We manage the estate in accordance with the UK Forestry Standard which is the Government’s framework for sustainable forestry.

  • The estate is also independently certified against the UK Woodland Assurance Standard and became the first state forest organisation in the world to receive the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) label on our timber products.

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Sustained Wood Supply

  • We are the largest producer of timber in England with 1.4 million tonnes per annum or 60% of current production (this represents less than 5% of wood consumption in England which is dependent upon imports).

  • We are committed to providing long-term stable supplies in line with published forecasts. This has enabled skills to be retained in the sector and significant private investment to be secured in wood processing despite a major cyclical downturn in prices over the last decade.

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Resources and Efficiency

We aim to deliver agreed targets for environmental and social services on the estate at the lowest cost through taking a business-like approach.

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  • £49m or 71% of gross operating expenditure in 2010/11 is expected to be covered by income from the estate including timber sales and recreation.

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We are progressively reducing the net operating cost of the estate.

The Forestry Commission’s current efficiency plan aims uses:

  • our expertise in efficient land management;

  • continuous benchmarking and market testing;

  • charging for added value recreation services (car parking, catering, special recreation, events etc.);

  • Public Private Partnerships, which undertake most of the forest management, operate specialist recreation facilities such as the Forest Holidays cabins and campsite business and run catering facilities;

  • exploring development opportunities on the estate in support of Government objectives such as renewable energy.

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Future Role of the Forestry Commission Estate in England – the 21st Century

Challenges for Society in the 21st Century

  • We have a new century and the needs of society are changing.

  • The focus is moving towards:

    • mitigating and adapting to climate change;
    • protecting our natural resources;
    • improving the quality of life in our mainly urban communities;
    • sustaining development in a global environment with an uncertain future.

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Role of State Forests in Europe

All EU countries have a mix of state and private forest ownership.

  • The principal reasons for having state forests are:

    • safeguarding “national treasures”;
    • market failure;
    • informing policy development;
    • exemplar for policy implementation;
    • sustained long-term approach;
    • cost effective delivery.

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Current Position in England

  • We have one of the smallest state forests in Europe and one of the most intensively used for public objectives.

  • We manage land across England. The current size, distribution and composition of the estate are a result of decades of property transactions and adaptations to changing Government priorities.

  • Individual woods vary greatly in the nature and level of contributions and a public forest estate created to meet today’s priorities would look very different.

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Forest Coverage

  EU Average Scotland and Wales England
% Forest Cover 38 17 9
% State Forests 36 35 20
% Population per Ha of State Forest 3 10 200


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Last updated: 1st February 2018