There is an increasingly complex set of drivers for, and deliverables expected of, forest management in the UK. These include increased environmental pressure, social and recreational needs, biodiversity, economics, and the essential requirement for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. Land managers also have a wide variety of management objectives from timber production to biodiversity and will need to adapt a range of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) practices to meet the needs of the UK Forest Standard. Research to define a range of options and alternatives will be a key part of our work. Our research in this area will focus on managing our forests, including the protection of soil and water, for long term sustainability.
Woodland creation to mitigate the impact of climate change is a high priority for government. To support this we will investigate new and more sustainable methods of woodland creation, such as natural regeneration and direct seeding, combined with research into reducing chemical usage. Adapting to the changing environment will require appropriate seed management techniques to support this, including species and provenance choice. It will also require research to respond to changing threats during crop establishment and development. This might include potential increases in pests and diseases, possible drought, and a need to maintain and enhance an appropriate gene pool.
We are using some of our public forests to trial and implement alternative silvicultural systems, such as continuous cover, and short rotation, forestry. These systems may reduce our impact on soil carbon reserves, support biodiversity and provide greater adaptive capacity to our forests. All of these will complement the work we are doing on climate change. Further research in this area will allow us to better predict rotations and yields, future timber quality, and the balance sheet of inputs versus outputs.
Policy, regulation and practice to protect soil and water resources have increasingly recognised land use and land management as major influences. This is already evident in the EU’s Water Framework Directive, Floods directive and in the European debate on soil monitoring and the development of the soil framework directive. Forestry and woodlands are involved in these developments and research will continue to understand the relationships between woodland cover and the soil and water environments. In the past much of our research has been reactive, investigating means to prevent forestry and woodland practices from damaging soil and water. We will now focus our resources towards research that supports policy development and the implementation of practices, which use woodlands to assist soil and water protection and help to mitigate against flooding.
Links to the sustainable management research programmes are listed below.