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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.
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