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Climate change impacts and adaptation in England’s woodlands

Home research Climate change impacts Climate change impacts and adaptation in England’s woodlands


The changing climate is a challenge for forest planning and forest management in England because the projected increases in temperature, changes in the seasonality of rainfall, and an increased frequency of extreme events add complexity to species selection and silvicultural practice. By actively adjusting (adapting) forest management now, to anticipate future changes, we can hope to increase resilience by reducing exposure to risks in the forest industry and in the goods and services that forests provide for society.

Tree productivity will increase in some areas and decline in others, and the effects will vary with species. Some relatively less known species will become more suitable – some from other continents and current climates more similar to those projected for England.

New approaches to woodland management will be required to address the threats of drought and increased risk of damage from pests, pathogens, wind and fire.

There are many uncertainties associated with climate change, and the likely impact on trees, silviculture and forest operations. This uncertainty should not prevent adaptation but instead should direct woodland managers to implement measures that increase resilience whatever climate change brings, or that are likely to reap the greatest rewards in the future.

A key concept in managing risk is diversification: from broadening the choice of genetic material and mixing tree species in different ways, to varying management systems and the timing of operations.

About the information provided

Information has been compiled from information in the Read Report (Read et al, 2009), 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.

Publications and reports

  • Climate change: impacts and adaptation in England's woodlands
    By D. Ray, J. Morison and M. Broadmeadow.
    Forestry Commission Research Note 201.
  • Combating Climate Change – A Role for UK Forests
    The first National Assessment of Forestry and Climate Change. Report provides peer-reviewed information at the national level following on from the recommendations from the global evaluation provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
    Prepared by a panel of authors chaired by Professor Sir David Read, Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, and which included Forest Research scientists. The report is published by TSO (The Station Office).
  • Climate change and the future for broadleaved tree species in Britain
    By M. Broadmeadow, D. Ray and C. Samuel.
    Forestry 78:145-167.
  • Climate Change and British Woodland (PDF-2872K)
    By M. Broadmeadow and D. Ray.
    Forestry Commission Information Note 69.
  • Climate change: Impact on UK Forests
    Describes current thinking on the most likely effects of climate change on UK forests and woodlands. It is recommended reading for forest managers and advisers, students and all those with an interest in the consequences of global change to our forests.
    Forestry Commission Bulletin 125.


For further information contact:

Duncan Ray

Funders and partners

This research is funded by the Forestry Commission Climate Change programme and Forestry Commission England.

Forestry Commission policy

Forestry Commission's approach to climate change is set out in the UKFS Forests and Climate Change Guidelines. Forestry sector actions that contribute to the UK policy on climate chagne mitigation are set out in the 2011 UK Carbon Plan and in the UK's 2015 LULUCF Action Report to the European Commission. Although actions to adapt to climate change are the responsibility of individual countries of the UK (e.g. for England, the National Adaptation Programme) they follow a common framework for assessing risk as set out in the 2012 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, which will be revised in 2017.

An overarching aim of forestry is to ensure that woodlands are resilient to the impacts of climate change and pests and diseases and are able to contribute to the way in which society, biodiversity and natural resources adjust to a changing climate. Such adaptation is also necessary to ensure that forestry can contine to make its important contribution to a future low carbon society through active management providing woodfuel and timber products.

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