Given the magnitude and rate of predicted climate change, trees and woodland will be significantly affected. Adaptation is therefore an important issue and should be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This is particularly the case because of the long time-frame associated with any management decisions made in forestry.
In contrast with other sectors, five, twenty and even 50 years are short-term planning horizons for some elements of woodland management. By the 2080s, an oak tree planted now will only be half-way through a commercial rotation, while as a component of semi-natural woodland, it would still be at a juvenile stage.
The difficulty is ensuring that decisions made now, particularly over planting material, are appropriate to both the current and future climate. Decisions should also not be restricted to the choice of planting material – landscape-level planning is equally relevant, with larger and less fragmented areas of woodland likely to be more robust in the face of any environmental perturbation. Woodland networks will also provide the opportunity for both native fauna and flora to migrate as climate change progresses.
Initially, the impacts of climate change are likely to be most serious and apparent in southern England, particularly on the more freely draining soils.
Young and newly established trees, together with street trees and trees in hedgerows are likely to be the first affected.
The productivity of many species will fall, while mortality will increase, both as a result of more frequent and intense summer droughts.
Species suitability will change, and it is therefore important to consider the planting stock in adaptating to climate change. Information on species suitability under future climate scenarios is available for England, Scotland and Wales.
Tree species and provenance: information on over 60 species that are either widely grown in British forests at the present time or which could play an increasing role in the future.
More southerly provenances and species are likely to be better adapted to the predicted hotter climate of the future, but may not be well adapted to the current climate.
Of particular concern, is the risk of spring frost damage to earlier flushing provenences and species from lower latitudes, as has been the case in the past with species such as southern beech (Nothofagus spp.) and black walnut. Frost damage leads to both reduced potential growth and poor form and timber quality, as demonstrated by the photograph of the early flushing provenance of oak. The phenology of species and provenances planted in anticipation of climate change is thus an important element of their choice.
Growth potential is not the only consideration for climate change adaptation, particularly for ancient or semi-natural woodland. As important are the implications for the genetic resource within Britain, and the fauna and flora comprising the woodland ecosystem. It is therefore essential to consider the principal purpose(s) of the woodland when assessing options for climate change adaptation.
Although the choice of planting stock during restocking, semi-natural woodland restoration and woodland expnsion is an important element of climate change adaptation, there are also options for the management of existing woodland.
Productivity across much of the north and west is predicted to rise, both as a result of increased warmth and rising CO2 levels. Rotation length and the timing of thinning may therefore need adjustment, particularly in areas subject to wind damage. Although predictions of changes to the wind climate are far from certain, any changes would have the potential to cause significant damage. The situation could be made worse by the predicted increase in winter rainfall leading to water-logging and reduced stability.
The tools that have been developed to managed forests in the uplands should therefore continue to be used, including an ongoing assessment of wind hazard as climate change progresses.
Increased winter rainfall and water-logging may also require a change in practice, limiting harvesting access to maintain soil structure and limit compaction. In time, establishment practice may need to change, while aftercare of, particularly, amenity and street trees will become more important.
Some of the steps for climate change adaptation described above involve more significant changes to current practice than others – some will require a major change to the thought processes involved with woodland management.
However, there are a number of basic measures that require little change to best practice and should be considered as no-regret options:
How will climate change affect forests and woodlands in Wales?
Climate change is now one of the greatest global challenges, and research is under way to establish the likely impacts on many aspects of the environment. Information in these pages provides an initial description of the likely impacts on forests and woodlands in Wales, with preliminary recommendations on how managers might respond and adapt to the challenge.
There are many uncertainties in the extent and range of climate change, and its likely impact on trees, management systems and forest operations. A key basis for risk planning and management is diversification; from broadening the choice of genetic material, mixing tree species in stands, to varying management systems and the timing of operations. An aspiration of the current Wales Woodland Strategy is to increase the proportion of woodlands managed using low impact silvicultural systems. Synergy between this forest policy objective and a ‘no-regrets’ climate change adaptation strategy should help to promote management systems with a lower environmental impact on forest sites, reduce the risk of climate impacts on woodlands through mixed species and age classes, and improve the overall resilience of woodland ecosystems to climate change.
As trees take many decades to mature, foresters must anticipate much further into the future than other land-managers. Although our knowledge about the likely effects of climate change is continually improving, we cannot wait until our predictive research is perfect (it never will be) to develop policies that address climate change.
Information has been compiled from knowledge within the forest scientific community, and from tree species suitability modelling using the decision-support tool Ecological Site Classification (ESC). The work applies future climate emissions scenario projections through ESC climate and site factors to examine likely changes in tree species suitability.
Maps are indicative and use coarse-resolution soil information with future climate variables derived from simulations provided by the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme (2002) (UKCIP02) at 5 km resolution. It is very important that the maps are used only to infer trends, and that forest planning for the future climate involves careful site-based and stand-based consideration..
This research is funded by the Forestry Commission Climate Change programme and Forestry Commission Wales.
Forestry Commission policy on climate change stems from the UK Government’s response to the Kyoto Protocol with the publication of the strategic document on climate change: ‘Climate Change – the UK programme’ published in November 2000. The Forestry Commission and Northern Ireland Forest Service helped to produce this strategy and are responsible for ensuring that our forestry policies and practices allow UK woodlands to withstand the rigours of climate change.
The Wales Woodland Strategy is currently under review and open for public consultation. The consultation document proposes a future vision for the woodlands of Wales to improve the goods and services that woodlands provide to society. This requires adaptive woodland management to maintain resilient habitats that will deliver economic, social, and environmental benefits to the people of Wales. Climate change adaptation will focus on the use of tree species well suited to projected future site and climatic conditions. By using more adapted native species, introducing more mixed species stands, and responding to the challenge of maintaining robust habitat networks, woodland ecosystems in Wales will be better able to cope with climate change.
For further information contact:
The following case studies and web resources relate to the UKFS Practice Guide – Adapting forest and woodland management to the changing climate.
Each of these studies range in size from small woodlands of three hectares to large forests of nearly 70 000 hectares, and several of the forests can be visited.
England: Forestry Commission – www.gov.uk/government/organisations/forestry-commission
Scotland: Scottish Forestry – www.forestry.gov.scot
Wales: Natural Resources Wales – www.naturalresourceswales.gov.uk
Northern Ireland: Forest Service – www.daera-ni.gov.uk/forestry
Scotland: Scottish Government – www.gov.scot/publications/climate-ready-scotland-second-scottish-climate-change-adaptation-programme-2019-2024
Wales: Welsh Government – https://gov.wales/prosperity-all-climate-conscious-wales
Northern Ireland: DAERA – www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/northern-ireland-climate-change-adaptation-programme
Climate Change Committee – Adapting to a warmer UK
Forest Research – TreeAlert
Forestry Commission Guidance (England) – Managing England’s woodlands in a climate emergency
Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (CCRA3) – www.ukclimaterisk.org
International Journal of Climatology – State of the UK climate 2018
LWEC Climate change impacts report cards – Agriculture and forestry, and Biodiversity
Met Office UK climate projections – http://ukclimateprojections.metoffice.gov.uk
Observatree – www.observatree.org.uk
Plant Healthy certification scheme – https://planthealthy.org.uk/
Scottish Forestry – Woodland grazing toolbox
UK National Ecosystem Assessment – uknea.unep-wcmc.org
About Drought – Ecosystem report cards
Scottish Forestry – Assessing herbivore impact in woodlands: An observation-based method
Forest Research – Pest and disease resources
Forestry Commission Research Note – Climate change: impacts and adaptation in England’s woodlands
Forestry Commission Research Note – Impacts of climate change on forestry in Scotland – a synopsis of spatial modelling research
Forestry Commission Research Note – Potential impacts of drought and disease on forestry in Scotland
Forestry Commission Research Note – Species preference of small mammals for direct-sown tree and shrub seeds
LWEC Climate change impacts report cards – Agriculture and forestry: Technical Paper 7 – Insects, pests and pathogens of trees
LWEC Climate change impacts report cards – Agriculture and forestry: Technical Paper 8 – Risks for woodlands, forest management and forestry production in the UK from climate change
Natural England / RSPB – Climate change adaptation manual
Forest Research – Tree species and provenance
Royal Forestry Society – Alternative species profiles
Silvifuture network – www.silvifuture.org.uk
Forestry Commission Research Note – Encouraging biodiversity at multiple scales in support of resilient woodlands
Forestry Commission Research Note – Converting planted non-native conifer to native woodlands: a review of the benefits, drawbacks and experience in Britain
Case study 3 – Woodland creation to highlight climate change adaptation at Jeskyns (see above)
Forest Research – Forest development types
Mason, Stokes and Forester (2021) – Proportions of a pine nurse influences overyielding in planted spruce forests of Atlantic Europe
Forestry Commission Information Note – Choosing provenance in broadleaved trees
Forestry Commission Scotland Guidance Note – Seed sources for planting native trees and shrubs in Scotland
Forestry Commission Research Report – Genetic considerations for provenance choice of native trees under climate change in England
Forestry Commission Research Note – Choice of silver birch planting stock for productive woodlands
Forestry Commission Information Note – Selecting the right provenance of oak for planting in Britain
Forestry Commission Information Note – The role of forest genetic resources in helping British forests respond to climate change
Forestry Commission Information Note – Using natural colonisation to create or expand new woodlands
Case study 5 – Demonstrating climate change adaptation in Alice Holt Forest (see above)
Forestry Commission Information Note – Transforming even-aged conifer stands to continuous cover management
Forestry Commission Information Note – Monitoring the transformation of even-aged stands to continuous cover management
Forest Research – Climate matching tool
Forestry Commission Bulletin – Cultivation of soils for forestry
Climate Change Accord: A call for resilient forests, woods and trees (July 2015) (Adaptation in action: Oakover Nurseries, p12)
Forest Research best practice guidance for land regeneration: Note 20 – Drought-tolerant tree species for land regeneration
Forestry Commission Practice Guide – Building wildfire resilience into forest management planning
Forestry Commission Technical Note – Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from forest civil engineering
Forestry Commission Technical Note – Extraction route trials on sensitive sites
Forestry Commission Technical Note – Protecting the environment during mechanised harvesting operations
Forest Research report – The role of contingency planning in climate change adaptation for the forestry sector in Scotland
UK Forestry Standard Practice Guide – Adapting forest and woodland management to the changing climate.
Supporting case studies on adaptive practice and useful sources of information.