Forestry Commission Forest of Dean

The Role of the Forestry Commission and UKWAS in British Timber Production

In the post on Sustainable Forestry, Biodiversity and Conservation we examined the role of conservation charities in sustainable forestry. The Forest of Dean was used as an example, but what role does the Forestry Commission play in sustainably managing the Forest of Dean in terms of conservation and timber production?

The Forestry Commission have sustainably managed and harvested the public forests of Great Britain since its formation in 1919. This government department is responsible for protecting forests against pests and diseases, conservation and the restoration of degraded brownfield sites. They also manage forests and woodland for the sustainable production of timber. This is then sold on the open market.

The United Kingdom Woodland Assurance Standard

The United Kingdom Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) was launched in June 1999 as a voluntary certification standard by a multi-stakeholder partnership. This was a British response to the criteria and principals of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The UKWAS is the foundation on which the United Kingdom is able to attain its FSC status.  This was instigated in response to increasing concerns about the environmental implications of forest operations and the recognition of the need for sustainable forestry practises.

In addition to other organisations, the Forestry Commission was an active participant in the launch of the UKWAS and they adhere to this standard. Other key members that were instrumental in establishing the UKWAS were the FSC and organisations such as the RSPB, Woodland Trust and National Trust. The intention was to create a working model that would set guidelines for exemplary social and environmental forest management standards. The UKWAS has ensured that the majority of working timber producing forests in the UK today are FSC certified.

How Does the Forest of Dean Comply with the UKWAS?

The Forestry Commission are committed to following the United Kingdom Woodland Assurance Standard. This, of course, applies to forest operations within the Forest of Dean. The ways in which plantations are managed for timber and areas of forest are managed for conservation are compliant at all times with the UKWAS.

Francis Barker on how the Forestry Commission Operate Within UKWAS Guidelines

Francis Barker of the Forestry Commission has worked for a number of years in the Forest of Dean. He has an in depth working knowledge of the forest. As an important timber producing forest, a considerable amount of planning is involved. This must be within UKWAS guidelines.

The forest is divided up into blocks, with areas or ‘beats’ being allocated to various rangers. And for each block, a working plan is made for the next ten years. That plan is then reviewed after 5 years in order to see if it still complies with the UKWAS. Furthermore, the plan is different depending on the types of tree that are planted in that block. The broadleaf trees are generally thinned every ten years, whereas the coniferous trees grow quickly and are felled after five years. These are not concrete rules. Many factors such as rainfall and climate will influence the rate at which trees grow and mature. Just because an area has been flagged up for thinning that is no guarantee that it will actually be ready to be thinned. In fact, this is especially true of broadleaved trees.

Each year the Forestry Commission’s Planning Department will issue a schedule for the thinning for each beat. Foresters or contractors survey areas to ascertain suitability for thinning. This is carried out in full accordance with the UKWAS. Criteria that determine suitability for thinning include points such as the species of trees involved. The UKWAS also has guidelines concerning how much timber can be removed in each thinning depending on the species.

When it comes to felling areas of forest, once the trees are felled, that particular block will then be surveyed. This does not mean that the block will automatically be replanted. The Cinderford Linea Park in the Forest of Dean is an example of how the use of a block may change. This park is a conservation area situated on the site of former railway line. It is now home to a variety of species of plants and animals.

Francis Barker assessed an area within the Linea Park after trees were felled. He did not consider it suitable for replanting. The ground was too waterlogged. In fact, the area is right next to wet heath and bog habitats. Instead of replanting; the area was left clear. Shallow trenches were dug and then allowed to fill with water. Amphibians such as the protected great crested newt have taken up residence in this area. This is just one of the many ways in which the Forestry Commission operate within accordance to the UKWAS within the Forest of Dean.

The most recent change in forest management legislation that affected the Forestry Commission concerned the management of broadleaves and the reinstatement of ancient woodlands. Ancient woodland sites can be managed, but they must not be clear felled. Small group fellings may be permitted. The area will then be replanted or left to regenerate. This legislation is extremely important with regards to conserving native habitats and species within the United Kingdom’s forests. There is a strong likelihood of protected species being present, so the opportunity to work within this type of wood is very narrow. This is all a part of managing woodlands and forests sustainably. Certain areas will make excellent blocks for timber production, whereas other areas will naturally lend themselves to conservation.

The Forest of Dean Today

Being one the UK’s last surviving ancient forests; the Forest of Dean has a rich historical and cultural heritage. Today the forest continues to make a valuable contribution in its own unique way.  Forest of Dean oaks were used during the rebuilding of the HMS Victory. In fact, the Forestry Commission still receive enquiries from people who need oak for ship masts.

The Forestry Commission also received the accolade of being the world’s first state owned forestry organisation to be granted the FSC accreditation. The Forestry Commission remains the largest timber producer in the United Kingdom today. The FSC label is carried on its timber and timber products.

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