Forestry in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom,[Notes 1] being in the British Isles, is ideal for tree growth, thanks to its mild winters, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and hill-sheltered topography. Growth rates for broadleaved (hardwood) trees exceed those of mainland Europe, while conifer (softwood) growth rates are three times those of Sweden and five times those of Finland. In the absence of people, much of Great Britain would be covered with mature oaks, except for Scotland. Although conditions for forestry are good, trees do face damage threats arising from fungi, parasites and pests.[1][2] The development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber in Wales come under Natural Resources Wales, as set out in the Forestry Act 1967.[3]

Epping Forest in 2008
Electricity wires cut through the forest at Coed Plas-y-Nant (Clwydian Range AONB), Ruthin, Wales

Nowadays, about 13% of Britain's land surface is wooded. The country's supply of timber was severely depleted during the First and Second World Wars, when imports were difficult, and the forested area bottomed out at under 5% of Britain's land surface in 1919. That year, the Forestry Commission was established to produce a strategic reserve of timber. Other European countries average from 25% to 72% (Finland) of their area as woodland.[4][5][6][7]

Of the 31,380 square kilometres (12,120 sq mi) of forest in Britain, around 30% is publicly owned and 70% is in the private sector.[Notes 2] More than 40,000 people work on this land. Conifers account for around one half (51%) of the UK woodland area, although this proportion varies from around one quarter (26%) in England to around three quarters (74%) in Scotland.[8] Britain's native tree flora comprises 32 species, of which 29 are broadleaves. Britain's industry and populace uses at least 50 million tonnes of timber a year. More than 75% of this is softwood, and Britain's forests cannot supply the demand; in fact, less than 10% of the timber used in Britain is home-grown. Paper and paper products make up more than half the wood consumed in Britain by volume.[4][9][10][11]

In October 2010, the new coalition government of the UK suggested it might sell off around half the Forestry Commission-owned woodland in the UK. A wide variety of groups were vocal about their disapproval, and by February 2011, the government abandoned the idea. Instead, it set up the Independent Panel on Forestry led by Rt Rev James Jones, then the Bishop of Liverpool. This body published its report in July 2012. Among other suggestions, it recommended that the forested portion of England should rise to 15% of the country's land area by 2060.[7] As of 2021, government plans call for 30,000 hectares of afforestation per annum. Efforts to reach these targets have attracted criticism for planting non-native trees, or trees that are out of place for their surroundings, leading to ecological changes.[12]


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