Sustainable Forestry, Biological Diversity and Conservation

Managing forests in regards to conservation was addressed in 1992 at the United Nation’s Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, also known as the Conference on Environment and Development. At that time, the need to develop an international model for sustainable forestry practices was identified. This was due to concern over the rapid deforestation in certain parts of the globe.

The UK was among one of the countries that highlighted the need for an international agreement that would be legally binding, in regards to a framework for sustainably managing the world’s forest resources. The goal was a Convention to compliment those on Climate Change, Desertification and Biological Diversity. However, there were other countries that objected to a Convention on Forests, as they believed that this would lead to their rights to use their own natural resources being compromised. Due to this opposition the Statement of Forest Principles, which is non-legally binding, was introduced instead of a Convention.

The Statement of Forest Principals established a global framework for the conservation, development and sustainable management of forests.

In global terms, The UK’s forests cover a small area. However, the United Kingdom’s Forestry Commission plays a significant role in international debates and discussions on forestry. They have been instrumental in their contribution to the development of international sustainable forestry policy. They are committed to sustainable forest management and even co-operate with developing countries on sustainable forestry issues.

Part of the Forestry Commissions’ commitment to sustainable forestry is an emphasis on conservation. Cooperation with charitable trusts such as the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and Woodland Trust ensures that conservation in UK forests is well supported. This is integral to sustainable forest management as outlined in the UN Statement of Forest Principles.

The Royal Forest of Dean and the Forestry Commission’s Role in Supporting Conservation and Biological Diversity

The Forest of Dean is one of the surviving ancient woodlands in the United Kingdom. Situated in the county of Gloucestershire, England, the mixed woodland covers an area of approximately 100 square kilometres. Today it remains a sustainable working timber producing forest. Although the Forest of Dean consists of mixed deciduous and evergreen woodland, many non-native species of tree are grown for timber production. These include the Japanese Larch, Douglas Fir and Scots Pine. While the Scots Pine occurs naturally in Scotland, it is not native to the South of England.

A balance must be achieved between sustainably grown non-native timber plantations and conserving habitats for native species of plant, insects and animals. Areas that have been specifically allocated for sustainable timber production are offset by nature reserves and conservation areas in the Forest of Dean.

A Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger leads a voluntary group called the Forest of Dean Green Team. Activities such as clearing shrubs and other plants in to maintain habitats for species of plants and animals are undertaken. The county’s leading conservation charity, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, owns and manages reserves within the Forest of Dean and works with the Forestry Commission to maintain biodiversity and to preserve vital habitats for native species.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Living Landscapes Project

The Local Action Group awarded the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust a sum of almost £68,000 In January 2011 for their ‘Living Landscapes’ project.

The objective of ‘Living Landscapes’ is the long term implementation of habitat restoration within the county of Gloucestershire. This vision of a sustainable future for wildlife encompasses the Forest of Dean. However, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust recognises that if the wildlife in the forest is to be sustained, it must be valued by residents. They are working to link residents, the economy and wildlife in order to establish a living landscape within in the Forest of Dean.

Their holistic approach places great emphasis on assisting Forest of Dean residents in connecting with the wildlife in their area. This enables people to identify the unique wildlife that defines their area. This involves working pro actively with the residents in the following ways:

• Identifying wildlife species that are unique to the area and creating Parish Wildlife Maps. The aim of this is to produce maps that will help residents to explore and gain a greater appreciation of their surroundings.

• Training residents in monitoring and surveying skills means that local people are undertaking a land-use survey which can be compared to the findings of a similar previous survey of 1974. This will help to show and quantify changes in land-use. The results will help to motivate residents to become more proactive in conserving local habitats. It will also be useful in influencing planning decisions.

• The Trust are training residents to survey for local species including key local species and Biodiversity Action Plan (BPA) species. This means that residents are able to actively participate in supporting their local wildlife.

• There is also the more practical side of managing habitats on the Trust’s Forest of Dean nature reserves. Tasks are carried by staff and volunteers. The flagship of this is the Woorgreens site where the Trust have partnered with the Forestry Commission. Residents have the opportunity to take an active role in practical conservation and learning new skills in this area.

• Events such as wildlife walks and talks will be a vital component of promoting the enjoyment of these unique local habitats.

Visitors to the Forest of Dean play an important part in the local economy, and this impacts upon residents. A part of encouraging residents to value local wildlife is identifying the fact that a main attraction of the Forest of Dean is the area’s unique wildlife. The Trust will run activities aimed specifically at visitors and will provide leaflets of walks that link nature reserves and other sites of interest. Guided walks are also an important part of this.

Beth Adams of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Takes a Closer Look at Sustainable Woodland and Forest Management in Nature Reserves.

Beth Adams, Volunteer Coordinator at the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, understands the important role that residents have to play in conserving unique local habitats. She is also a resident of the Forest of Dean and has previous experience working as a ranger in Hatfield Forest for the National Trust.

The local Woorgreens nature reserve is a good example of how these elements interact in regards to sustainable forestry. Areas of working forest for timber production surround the Trust’s reserve. In fact, in 2012 the Forestry Commission has already cleared a large area of trees so that the area can be managed for heathland. This is an important natural forest habitat for reptiles, insects, birds and certain plant species such as heather. However, the reserve itself is managed sustainably, as Beth explains.

Sustainable forestry is a huge area, and if you ask some people, sustainable forestry is all about timber production, for some it will be all about conservation and for others it will mean social involvement.

The management of woodlands and forests covers broad economic, environmental and social goals. A significant part of my personal experience in sustainable woodland management is in coppicing. This is an ancient traditional management technique, dating back possibly as far as the Iron Age when people cleared the land.

Coppicing is the art of cutting back trees to within 10 to 20 mm of the stump. Clean stems are left from which suckers or shoots will grow. These coppice stools can then be harvested from anywhere between 7 to 20 years of age. Coppiced species at Woorgreens include trees such as Alder.

We coppice between October and March, because it is easier at this time. Volunteers are encouraged to participate of course! There is less surrounding vegetative growth. Coppicing should not be done after the end of February. This is because we want to ensure that as little damage as possible is done to existing flora. Also, as the bird breeding season is between March to July, we really want to avoid this too. Coppice should not be cut in August either, as this encourages late shoots which will not ripen before the first frosts.

Trees are maintained at a juvenile stage which means that they will never die of old age. Some of the coppice stools that exist today are hundreds and even thousands of years old.

We cut coppice in sections which are known as coups. They are cut on a rotation basis to ensure that there is a coup at every stage of growth. Each year a coup will be cut, so this is sustainable as each year a coup is ready.

Almost all of the native British trees are capable of sprouting new shoots from the cut stumps of established trees. The least vigorous in this respect are the Beech, Birch and Hornbeam.

Managed coppices have a particularly rich flora and fauna. The cyclical cutting of the underwood on a repeated basis opens up the canopy, which encourages a varied ground flora. It also provides both open and sheltered and open spaces. This is a good habitat for birds such as warblers and nightingales. It also creates a good habitat for butterflies, reptiles and dormice too.

Our reserves in the Forest of Dean are managed sustainably and coppicing plays a very important role in this. A further benefit of this is coppicing produce cut from coppice poles.

• Fencing stakes
• Hedging stakes
• Bean poles
• Pea sticks
• Tree sticks
• Fire wood

A Closer Look at Woorgreens Nature Reserve

Woorgreens Nature Reserve is a great example of how the demand for timber and conservation of habitats can be balanced by managing a forest sustainably. The Woorgreens reserve is owned by the Forestry Commission and jointly managed by The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. This results in valuable habitats and biological diversity being maintained.

However, thanks to the joint efforts of the Forestry Commission and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, residents have been encouraged to actively contribute to this conservation. This has engaged local people, and helped them gain a greater appreciation of their local wildlife. Volunteering has been instrumental in this. Large areas of the forest are still available for the creation of plantations for non-native species of tree to be used for sustainable timber production.

In fact, Woorgreens is something of a flagship. The reserve is managed sustainably as we have seen. Events and wildlife walks are held at Woorgreens, so the public are actively encouraged to engage with their environment. Thanks to the efforts of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission, this nature reserve encompasses many important habitats.

• Margins of scalloped grassland support species of caterpillars and butterflies such as the speckled wood, meadow brown and gatekeeper.

• Wet and dry heath ride encourages a dense mixture of bare ground, gorse and heather. This is an ideal habitat for lizards and the adder. Nightjars can be heard in the summer months. This rare bird migrates from Africa to nest in parts of the UK during the late spring and summer.

• Woorgreens Lake is home to species of bird such as mallards, greylag geese and the golden eye. Species of dragonfly and damsel fly such as the brown hawker, common migrant, emperor, ruby darter and large red damsel fly can also be observed at the lake.

• A network of smaller ponds in the reserve, which are linked by ditches create vital areas for frogs, toads and the great crested newt.

• Open grassy areas provide areas in which reptiles such as slow worms and grass snakes can bask in the sun. These areas are also important for species of moth and butterfly.

• The edges of the reserve, where the open areas meet the surrounding forest are of equal importance. These areas are an important habitat for small mammals such as shrews and voles. Many plants also thrive in these sunnier conditions and encourage a greater variety of insects and birds.

Sustainable Forestry Actively Supports Biological Diversity and Impacts Positively Upon Local Communities

It is important to consider the expectations of consumers in regards to sustainable timber products. Because people have become more aware of their impact on the natural environment, conscience is a significant concern when it comes to choosing products. People now expect timber products to originate from sources where such initiatives are a matter of course.

However, such practices are now commonplace within many countries that produce timber, thus balancing economic concerns such as timber production with the issue of conservation. This holistic approach is the essence of sustainable forest management. Many groups and organisations can take an active role and cooperate with one another to ensure sustainability in many diverse ways. Natural resources are managed with maximum efficiency, while biodiversity and the conservation of natural and native habitats is not just maintained, but actively encouraged.

29 comments on “Sustainable Forestry, Biological Diversity and Conservation”

  1. Kevin Caster

    Hello, this write up is remarkably well informed and positive in regards to the Local Action Group funding and the Forestry Commissions support of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. I would be very keen to understand your interest with Woorgreens and inculde your perspective with future management. Please contact my email address. Many Thanks. K.

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