In mid-Wales, near the FSC UK office, lies Hafren Forest, close to the sources of both the Wye and Severn rivers and containing more than 34km of public rights of way. The forest is over 2800 hectares (nearly 4000 football pitches) in size and is a working forest, producing over 29,000 cubic metres of wood each year.
We met up with Jim Ralph of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), who looks after the forest, to get his opinion on whether certification has made a difference to how the forest is managed, and how forestry in general has changed over the years.
One obvious starting point is how the objectives have changed. “Where these used to be based on felling dates and economics, the arrival of FSC led to more consideration of conservation objectives.” Hafren forest is certainly managed these days with a greater emphasis on the environment. A map showing the proposed future look of the forest shows an increase in broadleaves alongside waterways, and there is already a butterfly meadow next to the main visitor car park. This has deliberately not been planted with trees, and requires different skills in nature stewardship than would normally be present in a purely production focused forest.
There is a clear vision in the management of the forest which combines social, environmental and economic factors. Trees are still felled, providing the necessary wood (in Hafren’s case) for fencing, panels, construction, pallets and wood fuel, but with FSC these products can be made whilst ensuring the forest is socially beneficial and environmentally friendly.
12,000 people visit Hafren every year according to NRW’s figures, and they take part in a huge number of different activities, from walking and cycling to motorbike and car rallies, and from osprey watching to police dog training and orienteering. People are also consulted on plans for the forest on a landscape scale; “FSC certification has improved the social aspects of forest management.”
Amongst the conservation objectives is the protection of the important waterways that flow through the forest. Too much felling alongside streams can increase the acidity of the water. Forests also have an important role in preventing flooding by taking up water that would otherwise enter streams and rivers, which is why the forest directly surrounding these areas is particularly important.
Linked to the concern for the health of waterways is the fate of the soil after trees are harvested, as when poorly managed this can be washed away. Amongst the machinery used for harvest, “the more damaging skidders are limited in their use, and the harvesters and forwarders have two more wheels, up to 8 from 6, to reduce pressure on the soil.”
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of forest and agricultural management to members of the public are the chemicals sprayed to destroy pests and weeds. NRW has recently moved to using nematodes as a means of targeting some pests as opposed to chemicals, a process that was helped by certification. “There is also a reduced use of chemicals by using controlled doses more often than overall spraying, and a change in the type of chemicals from more to less damaging.”
It is clear that certification and the FSC system has helped improve the social and environmental aspects of the management of UK forests registered with the scheme. We’re looking forward to seeing how forests in the UK change in the future, both as habitats for animals and places for people, and as productive forests where we can still get important wood based products. With FSC you can have both!