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Our woodlands are changing: RFS Insight Report
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Climate change, Ash Dieback and damage by grey squirrels are driving UK woodland owners to diversify the species of trees they are planting.

Our Woodlands Are Changing Lr

While some are reverting to familiar varieties such as Cherry and Wild Service Tree that have fallen out of favour in recent times, others are planting exotic alternatives such as Eucalyptus and species from the Americas and continental Europe.

These changes have emerged in an Insight Survey by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) which has found that more than 60 different species are now being planted to mitigate threats to tree resilience.

But the Royal Forestry Society has cautioned woodland owners against taking a ‘scatter gun’ approach, calling for measures to encourage more evidence-based decisions:

  • Make species selection and sourcing easer
  • Remove restrictions placed by grants on species selection
  • Match nursery supply and demand
  • Bridge gaps between end users, sawmills and growers of timber

The Insight Survey was carried out by the RFS of members who are woodland owners or managers.  Chief Executive Simon Lloyd said: “The species list represents a snap shot of those being chosen by respondents but does not include some like Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) which the RFS knows is also being planted as an alternative to Ash.

 “There is concern that some woodland managers are gravitating to species based primarily on personal preferences rather than making more evidence-based choices suitable for their locations and soil types as well as for their particular management objectives. A scatter gun approach risks the sustainability of woodland in the long term.

“Whether land managers choose to go down the novel route or stick to more tried-and-tested choices probably depends a little on how willing they are to try new ideas. Species like Cherry and Sweet Chestnut have known qualities and end markets, whereas the early adopters are choosing more unusual and exotic alternative species are relatively untested in woodlands in the UK. As confidence in the performance of these new species grows, we can probably expect to see an uplift in their popularity.

 “Overall, this Insight Survey suggests the messages of preparing now for climate change are being heard.”

Of those who responded, almost half are already planting more species than five years ago, and of those who are not, 63% are actively planning to do so in the next five years. Only 14% said they were not considering diversification.

 Among popular broadleaved varieties listed by respondents were native species such as Wild Service Tree, Cherry, Field Maple, Hornbeam and Lime alongside ‘familiar’ non-natives such as Sweet Chestnut and Black Walnut. There were also early adopters of less familiar species like Eucalyptus, Italian Alder and Southern Beech.

More than 20 conifer species were mentioned, with known timber producing species such as Douglas Fir predominant but with some lesser known species also being tried, including Chinese Fir and Swamp Cypress.

The report, which can be read in full here, also highlighted a number of barriers and concerns  including the inflexibility of species choice within grant schemes, difficulties in accessing information about the suitability of species to site conditions and sourcing specific species or provenance.

It acknowledges choices are likely to be dictated by management objectives, costs and accessibility to stock.  Publication follows the launch of the sector wide Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation of forests, woods and trees in England. The RFS is among organisations pledged to develop a knowledge hub and support for woodland owners looking to build resilience into woodland.

Simon Lloyd adds: “We are grateful to members for sharing their experiences and we will be using the Insight Report to help develop greater support for woodland owners to build the greater resilience they need to meet their management objectives.”

More on our Climate Change Policies and the Forestry Climate Change Adaptation Plan are available here