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Risks

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Climate change is increasing the risks to UK trees, woodlands and forests with increasing temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events.

The main climate risks include wind, flooding, drought, wildfire, frost, and pests and diseases. These risks need to be assessed on a site-by-site basis in order to identify suitable adaptation measures to help build resilience.

Climate change is predicted to also bring new opportunities to the forestry sector. For example, longer growing seasons may increase tree growth, and warmer conditions may increase growth rates on sites where moisture is not limiting.

Flooding
Pests & Diseases
Drought
Windthrow
Wildfire
Frost

Likely changes in the UK climate

Even if there are strenuous global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the UK’s climate will continue to change. These changes and the risks they present could be significant, although there is uncertainty. Woodland owners and managers should assess the risks that climate change could pose, and plan adaptation accordingly.

The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) advocates the development of a risk-based approach to adaptation and minimising the potential for negative impacts on tree growth and forest productivity using adaptation measures.

The 5-step Adaptation Framework guides managers through risk identification, management, and monitoring.

Risks and opportunities

Climate change factors

What could happen

Risk/opportunity

Carbon dioxide increase

Atmospheric CO2 concentration will continue to increase, depending on global measures to reduce emissions

Increased tree growth

Temperature increase

All UK regions are expected to warm – more in summer than in winter. The growing season will become longer.

Rainfall change

There may be lower summer rainfall, particularly in southern and central England. Summer rainstorms may be heavier when they do occur.

Sea level rise

Higher peak sea levels during storms; higher risk of sea water intrusion.

Flooding and waterlogging

Reduced frost and snow days

The number and severity of air frosts is expected to decline, however, their timing in relation to plant and animal cycles may change.

Increased storm frequency and wind speeds

Some increase in winter storms and average wind speed is expected.

See the UKFS Practice Guide

Download the UKFS Adaptation Practice Guide

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‘Adapting forest and woodland management to the changing climate’ for a more detailed overview including influencing site factors.

Decision Support Tools

There are a range of online tools to assist managers in assessing risks to forests and woodlands and selecting appropriate adaptation measures.

Further resources

Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3)
Land use, land-use change and forestry – UK Climate RIsk
Climate change and resilient woodlands – Forestry Commission