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Adapting England's woodlands to be more resilient

Since tree crops take many years to mature, the planning horizons for forestry are inherently long. Actions taken now may only prove their worth in 50-100 years’ time and must be appropriate for both the current and future climates.

We recommend that foresters should follow a strategy of:

  • anticipatory adaptation, making changes before the impact is observed, as this offers the highest potential gains for forest resilience. 
  • accept that this approach is not risk adverse.
  •  actions taken today should accommodate the more extreme climate predications up to 2050

Jump to advice on managing resilience:

Forests for the future: planting resilient woodlands An article by John Weir FICFor, recently published in the 'Quarterly Journal of Forestry' of the Royal Forestry Society.

Reducing risk through diversification

Diversity is at the core of woodland adaptation and ensuring resilience in the future. This should be achieved through diversification of:

When considering origin of tree seed for a species it is recommended that an origin of between 2 to 5 degrees south of that currently used is found.

Many of the suggested tree species and origins may not be available from nurseries today so it’s recommended to plan ahead and advise nurseries of your requirements at least two years in advance.

  • Stand structure – although dependent on specific management objectives and site location, diversification of standard structure is often quoted as a way to spread risks from a range of potentially damaging impacts.

  • Age structure - forest managers are increasingly recognising the potential benefits of continuous cover forestry and close to nature systems, which are considered as providing: Increased stability to the impacts of wind storms; natural regeneration and improved microclimate for young trees; reduced vulnerability to pests and diseases; visually attractive woodland.

A considerable body of evidence and guidance is available to guide practitioners. The links on right of this page lead to further information.

Managing resilience: Native and ancient woodland

The Managing Ancient and Native Woodlands in England practice guide prescribes the requirements for managing ancient and native woodland; a paper reflective of the Keepers of Time policy statement published in 2005. The following guidelines on how to manage resilience in England’s native and ancient woodland follow the principles of these papers.

Guidelines for woodland in England

  • Woods that are either ancient, native, or which have retained key features of ancient woodland, should be managed to conserve important biodiversity and heritage, while not unnecessarily compromising timber production.

  • Special consideration should be given to the management of ash trees due the spread of Chalara fraxinea and our desire to find resilient trees. Forestry Commission England and Natural England have an agreed position for the management of ash dominated SSSI's.

  • Unless there are overriding environmental or social constraints, broadleaved woodland should be managed to maximise the crops’ value by balancing quality and timber yield, recognising the importance of keeping the native character of our ancient woodland.

  • The long length of rotations reduces the crops’ ability to adapt naturally.  It will be important to intervene frequently to promote adaptation through planting or to encourage natural regeneration and evolutionary adaptation.

  • The potential for improved productivity from oak and beech in the north should be explored as it may offer opportunities for the greater use of broadleaves as a commercial crop. 

  • New and regenerated woodlands’ genetic variability should be enhanced by including local provenance and others from up to five degrees south.

  • Planting material should be sourced from improved stands, where available or appropriate.

  • Opportunities should be taken to diversify the species mix within woodlands. This will include planting native species outside their natural range in the north and west.

  • The character of the English landscape should be retained through a proactive, anticipatory approach to adaptation that will provide the best opportunity to establish healthy woodlands.

  • Coppice and coppice with standards should be practised more extensively as silvicultural systems for managing existing woodlands.

  • In areas where abiotic and biotic factors limit the ability to grow quality broadleaves (such as East Anglia), short rotation forestry using native species such as birch should be considered.

  • The creation of new broadleaf woodlands offers an ideal opportunity to plant more species native to southerly regions of England or to plant native species in areas to the north of their historical origin. See the tree species origin document in the right-hand column for more information.

  • Most of the species in England’s native woodland occupy a wide climatic range across Europe, as these species distribution maps show. This makes it possible to use origins that are better adapted to England’s future climate.

  • Broadleaved species new to forests in England should be considered as a component of the planting design, particularly in the south and east. For example more sweet chestnut and other broadleaved species from the near continent can be used to take advantage of the changing climate.

Managing resilience: Conifers and exotic broadleaves

The conifer plantations managed by the Forestry Commission in England are dominated by only five species: Larch, Sitka Spruce, Scots Pine, Douglas Fir and Corsican Pine. These species were chosen because of their high productivity and timber quality, as were exotic broadleaves such as the Nothofagus species. Monoculture, however, is a potentially high-risk strategy and the guidance below strives to mitigate the risks facing conifer and exotic broadleaf woodland.

Guidelance for woodland in England

  • Pre-2011 conifer plantations should be managed to optimise carbon sequestration, within the chosen silvicultural system unless there are overriding economic, environmental or social constraints.

  • Where considered appropriate, there will be an increase in the area managed using Low Impact Silvicultural Systems. 

  • Restocking should correct poor practices of the past, for example, drainage that was carried out prior to publication of the Forests and Water Guidelines.

  • Where existing species are replicated at restocking, planting stock should be of more southerly origin (the timing of this change will be dependant on specific site conditions, such as frost-risk).

  • Where site conditions permit, conifer plantations established after 2011 should have a greater tree species diversification. Where necessary, some loss of yield should be accepted to achieve enhanced resilience; species trials have shown us that we can grow a much wider range of species with good timber properties.

  • Some stands planted after 2011 should include species that have not previously been planted as timber crops in England.

  • Forests and/or individual stands should have a greater diversity of origin within each species.

  • Some forests will be more productive, requiring management over shorter rotations to maintain stability.

  • Forest design and operational plans should be revised at renewal stage to militate against increased wind and fire risk.

  • Appropriate biosecurity should be as embedded in practice as health and safety is today.

  • Opportunities should be taken to diversify species and stand structure after storm events or high mortality following pest/disease outbreaks. 

Last updated: 31st January 2018