By the beginning of the 20th century the area of Britain covered by forest and woodland had dropped to just 5%. Through a concerted effort based around sustainable forest management in the UK this level is now back up to just under 12%, a significant achievement. Although this coverage continues to rise, it is still low compared to other European nations. Intensive human activity over the centuries has determined the natural environment we see in the UK, and land use pressures will not ease. However showing how sustainable forest management benefits the UK as a whole will hopefully keep the general public on board to why it is desirable. The importance of woodland creation cannot be overstated.
The scale of forest and woodland area in the UK does not permit for their own wild management, free of human intervention. UK forestry has been subject to some form of active management for agriculture and heating fuel since the ice ages. Yet now it is widely recognised that good forest management can bring social, economic and environmental benefits to the area. Forests and woodlands can be managed to the specific needs of specific areas, replicating the ancient forest that would have stood there, but on a far smaller scale.
A walk in the woods is still a refreshing, invigorating experience. The social need for places to escape to, relax, educate and just breathe in the air is clear. Forest management can help make woodlands more accessible and less threatening, while still retaining the core essence of its natural environment. Many of us exercise through wooded areas and they are also used to help with mental health and well-being. We walk our dogs, take the family on picnics and holiday in woodland resorts, all aided by good forest management.
Felling and re-planting is a major element of forest management. Part of this also involves thinning, a by-product of which is firewood, an increasingly sought after fuel due to its renewable quality. Though considered poor quality and not suitable for the premium timber markets, firewood and bbq wood fuel provides potential for an economic return on forest management methods, which if applied across even more areas returned to woodland could create rural jobs. The aim of the thinning is to allow for growth of premium timber, an industry that already is of significant size in the UK. Again increased woodland with good sustainable management practices can produce more quality timber with the additional jobs that would create. This combines with the leisure activities that woodlands are used for and the tourist opportunities they attract to show good economic arguments for managed forest and woodland areas.
The nature of UK forests mean that they have to be managed to retain a level of biodiversity. Many areas of trees are of similar age and uniform height, something that is unlikely in areas previously unaffected by human interference. If unmanaged, little light will reach the ground as the canopy grows and closes over. Ground based species numbers will fall, which in turn will affect the habitat diversity in general. Natural woodland would not have this uniform nature and this is where forest management helps. Planting different tree species also makes for a healthier wooded area, though this has to be measured alongside economic decisions. If a wood is providing commercial timber then one specific tree type is easier to harvest and more financially viable.
A good mix of tree varieties also stands our woodlands in good stead to adapt to any future changes brought about by climate change. As most research points to the excess of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide as being a major factor in climate change, the reduction of carbon dioxide by trees may be crucial in preventing further serious problems. Tree planting can also help with soil erosion and flooding, again an increasing issue predicted with rising global temperatures.
Woodlands act as the UK’s lungs, removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They serve as our playgrounds and havens where we can enjoy the diverse habitats of the UK. Yet they also offer the chance to create sustainable livelihoods through jobs in timber and tourism. For this all to fit together good forest management in the UK is vital.