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Climate change will affect our forests, influencing tree growth rates and timber quality.
Summers are projected to become warmer and drier, and winters warmer and wetter, with an increase in extreme events, including storms. On some sites, particularly those that are cooler, this could result in increased productivity, where other factors are not limiting, but on other sites (e.g. drier locations, lighter soils) species suitability and stand growth may reduce.
The climate is changing, and will continue to change, and the advice is to plan for a 2°C global temperature rise (above that of the pre-industrial period), and to consider the risks from a 4°C temperature rise before 2100 in adaptation planning (CCC, 2019).
Climate change will affect the forestry sector through impacts on forests, and also through direct and indirect impacts on businesses. There is an increased risk of disruption to transport, communications networks, supply chains, and poorer working conditions from rising temperatures and extreme events. It is essential to consider the impacts of climate change and assess the level of risk to forests and forestry businesses. It is increasingly urgent to identify opportunities to adapt and create a resilient forestry sector.
Projected changes in climate will affect tree growth rates, and productivity may increase on sites where other factors are not limiting, providing an opportunity for increased profitability and shorter rotations. On other sites, tree species will become less climatically suitable and growth rates will reduce. The length of forest rotations mean planning for long-term changes in climate are essential.
Climate change will affect wood properties, suitability for market, and value, although the effects are less certain.
An increase in growth rate may affect timber quality through reduced wood density or stiffness. Longer growing seasons may result in increased lammas growth, increasing wood knots and reducing quality. Damage from wind, insect pests, pathogens or browsing can affect stem form and stem straightness. The risk of stem crack from drought or frost damage will also increase.
The risk of extreme events and tree health threats that can cause stand damage and/or mortality is increasing for all forest types. The risk of drought, wildfire, storms, flooding, pests and diseases must be assessed, and appropriate adaptation measures implemented.
The Gross Value Added (GVA) of the UK forestry sector in 2019 was £0.65 billion, supporting the rural economy with employment in forest management, transport, wood processing, recreation, and tourism. The role of forestry in climate change mitigation is providing opportunities for the forestry sector, including woodland creation and increased demand for wood fuel and long-lived wood products. Forests, forest businesses, and the forestry sector must be resilient to climate change to continue to deliver the widest range of ecosystem services and benefits.
Climate change will affect industry and businesses, in particular extreme events such as heatwaves, storms, flooding, and wildfires increase the risk of disruption to transport, communications networks, and supply chains. Warmer temperatures can affect working conditions, and wetter autumns and winters may restrict forestry operations.
Climate change will affect each stage of the forestry supply chain, with impacts cascading to other stages. Forest nurseries and establishment will be affected through changes to seed production and viability, and the survival of young trees, which are vulnerable to drought, flooding, wind, and wildfire. Climate change may affect the timing of forest operations, such as planting, thinning, or harvesting. Forest transport may be disrupted by extreme heat, storms, and flooding. Changes in growth, quality, and tree species will affect the availability of harvested wood products, and in turn wood processing. The effects of adaptation actions in response to risks at each stage will also affect the supply chain, for example species diversification or moving to alternative management systems.
Management for carbon sequestration and registration through certified schemes such as the Woodland Carbon Code can provide income for forest management. The Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) is the quality assurance standard for woodland creation projects in the UK and generates independently verified carbon units. This scheme involves selling the rights to the carbon captured by certified woodlands to investors, typically those who wish to compensate for emissions.
Adaptation to climate change is more than identifying alternative tree species. There is a wide range of possible measures that may be necessary to adapt current stands to future changes and to specific risks. For example, choice of planting material (different provenances and species; improved stock from breeding or selection programmes), alternative thinning regimes, restructuring, transitioning to a continuous cover system, management of vegetation for wildfire, increased monitoring, and contingency planning.
It is important to identify windows of opportunity to undertake adaptation interventions, such as to coincide with stand thinning or replanting. Measures should be implemented sooner rather than later, due to the timescales involved and long forest rotations.
Climate change will affect different sites and stands differently. Assessing the site-specific risks and interactions between multiple risks is essential, by refining projections to the stand level and integrating local expertise e.g. knowledge of frost pockets, or areas prone to flooding
The Ecological Site Classification (ESC) decision support tool can support decision making by assessing the current and future suitability of tree species for a forest site. Information about alternative species and management systems, are available, as is guidance for managing specific risks.
A free online tool to visualise UK climate change trends and indicators of risk.
A free online tool compares a site’s future climate to current locations in Europe, and gives an indication of the climate that trees are likely to experience in the future.