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A number of studies have shown that in the UK managed woodlands increase in biodiversity value. Woodlands are not static entities that can be left without interference, they are changing environments and as trees grow larger; the nature of the habitat will change. Most woodland in the UK is composed of blocks of similar age trees. As these trees grow they tend to reduce the light reaching the forest floor (this is particularly true if the woodland has been planted close together as a timber crop). Reducing the light at ground level will reduce the number of different species able to survive in the woodland, which will have the effect of reducing the habitat diversity. In a natural woodland this situation would hardly ever arise because of the uneven age structure of the woodland, and if it did, it would only be as one of many different habitats in an area supporting a healthy ecosystem.

The nature of UK woodlands means that to retain the broad variety of habitats needed for our native wildlife, we often need to manage our woodlands to mimic and recreate the mosaic of habitats present in natural woodlands. Wildlife and Countryside Link, a body that brings together voluntary wildlife organisations such as Plant Life, Butterfly Conservation, Friends of the Earth and the Wildlife Trusts, has created a position statement that fully supports the Forestry Commissions Woodfuel Strategy (PDF 117 KB).

Climate change, resilience and mitigation

The overwhelming majority of scientific opinion indicates that changes are taking place in the global climate caused by the release of CO2 and other “greenhouse” gasses, this is likely to have a profound impact on the ecosystem and the growth of woodlands in the UK. The independent report Combating Climate Change – a role for UK forests has been commissioned by the FC, it shows that woodland provides an important buffering effect against climate change as well as providing resilience in affected ecosystems.
Managing woodlands has two effects:

  • Resilience
    Establishing mixtures of trees bearing in mind the changes in climate will increase the rate at which woodlands can change and increase the ability of natural ecosystems to react to changes. Forest Research has published two important information notes Forests, Carbon and Climate Change: the UK contribution (PDF 1.56 MB), and Climate Change and British Woodland (PDF 2.4 MB).
  • Mitigation
    Planting and managing woodlands is one of the most effective and efficient ways we have of removing atmospheric carbon and otherwise mitigating the effects of climate change. Timber is a good replacement for a number of different building materials such as steel and concrete and if used as a building material significantly reduces the amount of carbon released by the production of these materials as well as locking away carbon in an inert form for significant periods of time. Trees have a significant effect on the hydrology of an area and can often help contain and control flooding and erosion. Shelter belts have been used for hundreds of years as an effective means of improving the microclimate of fields to protect crops and livestock from harsh weather.

The Woodland Carbon Code

The potential of woodlands to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere while providing a host of other benefits for society and biodiversity is becoming increasingly recognised, and many individuals and businesses wish to contribute to tree planting to help society soak up the carbon it emits. Understandably, before investing in such projects people want to know that schemes will actually deliver the carbon savings that they claim. The Forestry Commission has introduced a Woodland Carbon Code to define best practice for these schemes.

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