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The role of the Forestry Commission

Firstly, we should acknowledge that we don't always know the best way to achieve sustainable forest management. So the Forestry Commission has a national responsibility to carry out research and to monitor the outcome of forestry practices – the first is needed to improve methods and the second to make sure that the improvements are real. Where we have a fair idea of what constitutes sustainable practice, our responsibility is to set national standards for forest management, apply them in public forests and encourage private woodland owners to do the same. The UK Forestry Standard is the Government’s framework for the practice of sustainable forestry management. Compliance with the Standard and its supporting literature is a prerequisite for government grant aid and for meeting the conditions of regulatory mechanisms such as Environmental Impact Assessment and Felling Licences. We have al so encouraged the development of voluntary certification schemes that enable woodland owners and managers to seek third-party assurance that their management meets national and international criteria for sustainability.

We are committed to expanding our woodland area – though we are equally committed to ensuring that new woodlands are appropriately sited, designed and are multi-fuctional. In the international debate on forest destruction, we have to recognise that our ancestors deforested the UK centuries ago. Our resulting landscape now accommodates many other habitats and activities that society values and does not want to lose. There is, nonetheless, room for more woodland – on derelict industrial land, on farmland, on river and stream-banks, on unproductive floodplains. In many places we need to deploy new woodlands to join up fragmented remnants of ancient woodland – to make them a more robust and sustainable asset.

Some of the challenges are:

  • fit forests into the rural economy and wherever possible into the urban community as well
  • increase the value of woodlands for wildlife
  • protect woodland against illegal felling
  • make more use of native trees and natural methods of regeneration
  • do more to recognise the importance of non-woodland habitats within and around forests
  • protect historic sites and landscapes and restore ancient woods where it’s practicable to do so
  • make sure that the presence of woodland, and forestry operations in them do not damage soil and water
  • make forests safer places to work in - sadly forestry remains a dangerous occupation
  • help to make woodlands an inclusive social asset
  • protect them from pests and diseases and from the effects of a changing environment
  • use fewer pesticides
  • manage forests wherever possible as natural or semi-natural ecosystems