LlyG member blog – reporting back from RFS conference – Resilient Woodlands: Meeting the Challenges

Posted on October 13, 2015 by

This month Anthea Fairy, a member of the Friends of Castle Meadows (pictured above), reports back to the LlyG network from the Royal Forestry Society and Woodland Trust Conference – ‘Resilient Woodlands: meeting the challenges’. Here she shares her own event notes on what a resilient woodland is, including challenges and recommendations, and concludes with reflection what this means in a community woodlands, both her own and others.

Resilient Woodlands – everybody’s talking about them, but what should you be doing? This was the overarching question for this year’s RFS Conference, which I attended this September in Birmingham.

This branched out into three key questions which the programme of leading speakers sought to address –

• What are the key challenges for woods and woodland owners in the 21st century?
• How can we make woods and wooded landscapes both ecologically and financially resilient?
• What does this mean in terms of policy and practice?

To add to this was my own question as a ‘community woodlander’ – how does this relate to the work community woodlands undertake across Wales?

What is a Resilient Woodland?

Resilience is the capacity of a forest to withstand (absorb) external pressures and return, over time, to its pre-disturbance state.

A resilient forest ecosystem is able to maintain its ‘identity’ in terms of taxonomic composition, structure, ecological functions, and process rates.

Planning for Resilience

When planning for resilience we need to consider the ecological, the economic and social aspects of woodlands and not think of them as separate entities.

Existing woodlands need to be extended and linked which will allow gene flow and species migration.

Trees outside woodlands (TOWS) are important because they are a valuable ecosystem but, due to their isolation they are vulnerable to pests and pathogens.

Planners and woodland managers need to include a more diverse range of species; this will provide a greater capacity for resilience.

A diverse approach

As the climate changes we know there will be more invasions of pathogens from Asia into Europe and that there is the emergence of new hybrid pathogen species. There needs to be a range of resilient approaches and not rely on a single strategy e.g. breeding trees for resistance, diversifying species and aiming for rapid turnover.

Consequences of unmanaged woodland

The consequences of not managing woodlands results in lack of resilience which includes: a decreased biodiversity; decreased woodland infrastructure; a reduction in timber value; but an increase in deer and squirrel populations.

Resilience – the recommendations

The recommendations are: grow the right species of tree i.e. quality hardwoods and understand their nature and properties, understand the market, invest for performance, get professional advice, control deer and grey squirrels practice zero tolerance. Move away from plantations to mixed diverse multi-species forests. Plan for bigger better joined up woodlands.

Pathogen control must be a priority. Foresters and visitors are notoriously bad at biosecurity, and how many of us regularly disinfect our boots when leaving woodlands? Only 7% provide facilities! Generally foresters do not check the provenance of their trees but nurseries are much better at this.

www.sylva.org.uk has some good information. Also www.forestry.gov.uk/biosecurity

The State of Nature survey in 2013 showed that 60% of species were in decline. There has been a decline in woodland bird species. Within vascular plants there is a decline in species richness which has resulted in woodlands becoming blander; however due to the reduction in atmospheric pollution there has been a recovery in lichen populations. It is thought that the patterns are due to a combination of woodland management practices and climate change. With regard to woodlands there has been an increase in fragmentation and increasing coniferisation. There is also the fact that trees are gradually ageing. Major concerns are: increasing grey squirrel populations, the increase of grazing from deer, more shade, more invasive species and un-restored plantations. The key to these problems is-management.

• We need better protection for the integrity of woodlands.
• We need to restore existing woodlands .
• We need to set up stepping stone corridors to link woodlands.

Wildlife Trusts have an important part to play in engaging individuals of all ages; woodlands are valuable in the urban context. It’s likely that the next generation will have a better natural environment than this one. More green spaces and more urban trees.

Research into the effect of raised CO2 and the role of woodlands

To look at the effect of raised carbon dioxide levels and the role of woodlands a sophisticated experiment is being undertaken by the University of Birmingham (Birmingham Institute for Forest Research). It hopes to answer the following questions:

• Does elevated CO2 increase the carbon storage in mature woodlands?
• Do other macro- or micro-nutrients limit the uptake of carbon?
• What aspects of biodiversity and ecosystem structure-and-function alter?
• How can lessons learnt be generalised to other woodlands and forests?

Learning and working together

In order to research into forest resilience we should learn from other sectors such as cities, industry and society and adopt co-operative working. When planning for resilient mixed landscapes, there should be an amalgam of resilient forests and resilient cities

A resilient forest is one that has –
• An increased mix of species
• An increased mix of ages
• An increased mix of diameter classes.

We need to maximise our uses of timber e.g. flooring, construction, furniture, utensils, and sculpture and only use as wood fuel what cannot be used for anything else . We also need to invest in product development.

Squirrel management

There is a large problem with grey squirrel damage to trees in woodlands. Pine martens are carnivores that predate on grey squirrels. Red squirrels and pne martens seem to have evolved together and co-exist. Anecdotal evidence is that where pine martens have recovered & expanded their range in parts of Scotland, grey squirrel numbers have declined. This is encouraging news for woodland owners. In order to assess whether the same relationship exists in other parts of the UK, a pilot study is being undertaken at 5 sites in Wales and one in the Forest of Dean. Selected pine martens from Scotland have been fitted with radio collars and released into the wild in the 6 sites. This initiative is being undertaken by the Vincent Wildlife trust (www.vwt.org.uk).

Continuous Forest Cover

Continuous forest cover (CCF) is a management technique which advocates the abandonment of clear felling. It is the management of continuously productive irregular stands in forests and woodlands that are created by the selection and harvesting of individual trees. CCF stands produce timber on regular cycles and is cost-effective. It also optimises positive ecological and economic outputs. The idea is to adapt the forest to the site by:
• Adopting a holistic approach to forest management.
• Maintaining forest conditions and avoiding clear felling.

“CCF is a simple, dynamic way for forests to be adaptive and resilient and to evolve for change that is yet unknown.” Philippe Morgan (President, Pro Silva)

Climate Change Accord

The signatories of the accord agree on how important its aims are. This is a call for action now to plan for the future. We, as woodlanders, should all be willing to work towards the 7 guiding principles of the Accord.

Offered below are some websites that we as Friends of Castle Meadows have used in our efforts to support the Climate Change Accord.

Tree Alert – Forestry Commission

What does this mean for community woodlands?

As a community woodlanderwho attended the conference, I am even more aware of the challenges we face in the twenty-first century. We, as groups, can help by monitoring and by taking part in Observatree and Tree Alert. Since returning from the conference I have distributed ‘Ashtags’ (fully recyclable tagging pack to mark ash trees to help monitor and protect the species from ash dieback) to community members.

We are raising awareness of the importance of the issues raised at the conference by explaining to individuals who use the wood why we are doing what we are doing. I understand how important it is to plan for a woodland which has greater biodiversity as this will help build resilience against incidents which threaten to destroy fragile habitats. I see how important it is to link woodlands even if this can only be achieved by practices as simple as encouraging ‘stepping stones’ (i.e.trees in gardens and public places).

The conference highlighted how important it is that woodland groups network so that they can exchange ideas and grow experience and knowledge.


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