What is forest certification?
© FSC ICAs a forest manager or owner, certification is a way of ensuring that your careful and long term forest management is recognised. Certification is voluntary. It involves an inspection of the forest management by an independent organisation to check that it passes the internationally agreed principles of good forest management. The timber can then carry the FSC label, guaranteeing that it comes from a well-managed forest and enabling you to pass on the benefits of certification to your customers.
What are the benefits of forest certification?
1. Receive the public recognition which responsible forest management deserves.
2. Meet customer demands: UK retailers and specifiers such as local councils and architects increasingly ask forest managers for an independent proof that their forest is well-managed.
3. Gain a competitive edge for your timber.
4. Meet internal policy: certification helps forest managers to demonstrate to owners, investors and/or themselves that they are meeting their objectives of responsible long-term management.
Achieving FSC forest certification
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) does not carry out forest inspections itself. That job is done by certification bodies such as the Soil Association (Woodmark Programme) or SGS Forestry (Qualifor Programme). The role of FSC is to evaluate and monitor, i.e. accredit, certification bodies. Accreditation ensures that all certification bodies work to the same high standards. In effect FSC acts as an umbrella within which reputable inspection bodies can operate.
Achieving FSC certification for your forest can be a quick or a lengthy process, very much depending on existing management practices and documentation systems. You are able to obtain certification through a certification body or a group scheme. To commence the process, we advise you to get in touch with a few certification bodies as well as group schemes for a preliminary discussion to determine what you will need to do. As they all have slightly different costs, it is worth shopping around a little.
Please click here for a list of certification bodies.
Please click here for more information and a listing of UK forest management group schemes.
What Standard is used?
At the international level FSC has developed its set of Principles and Criteria of sound forest management. They apply to all forests, temperate, tropical and boreal, natural forests and plantations. Requirements include compliance with national legislation, respect for local use rights, maintenance of the ecological functions of the forest and its biodiversity, economic viability, and the need for an adequate management plan and monitoring of operations. To take local conditions into account FSC encourages the development of national standards of forest management in each country or region which interpret the international Principles and Criteria.
FSC’s UK forest management standard is based around the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS). The UKWAS was developed as a voluntary forestry standard in consultation with major social, environmental and forestry organisations in the UK and FSC. It is a national standard which is consistent with FSC Principles and Criteria whilst at the same time reflecting local ecological, social and economic circumstances. The standard is drafted in such a way as to refer to existing Forestry Commission standards and guidelines as far as possible. The UKWAS does not provide a product label or chain of custody certification by itself but it has been designed to fit into other labelling systems such as the FSC.
It should be noted that UKWAS certification is only approved by FSC when an FSC accredited certification body carries out the inspection. Many forest managers see the UKWAS as a useful document to check for themselves how far they already meet FSC certification requirements.
What are the costs?
The costs for certification vary a lot depending on size and complexity of the woodland. It is very difficult to generalise and you should contact the certification bodies to get an estimate for your woodland. Costs can be considerably reduced if several forests are being assessed together in a group scheme or if the size of your woodland holding or intensity of management fall within the SLIMF (Small and Low Intensity Managed Forests) thresholds, as outlined below. For large forests costs increase with the size of the holding as the assessment requires more time for the field visit, but costs per hectare will be lower. Certification bodies and group schemes will be able to provide an estimate for your woodland.
Forest certification requires an inspection team to make a field visit and examine relevant paperwork for each forest. The costs this entails per hectare would, therefore, be relatively high for small or medium sized properties.
To make certification affordable and streamlined, certification bodies have developed schemes by which several woodlands can be certified together as a group. Please click here for more information about group certification.
Small and Low-Intensity Managed Forests (SLIMF)
During the UKWAS review between 2009 and 2011, the ‘small and low-intensity managed (SLIM) forest/woodlands upper threshold in the UK was raised from 100 hectares to 500 hectares. Categorisation as a SLIM woodland delivers benefits to owners in terms of ensuring that certification scheme auditing requirements are not unduly onerous.
FSC certification of SLIM woodlands can be carried out under a modified set of procedures which streamline the technical requirements forest managers need to meet, including changes to sampling levels, simpler administration processes and a reduction in the number of reviews needed. Most importantly, this means a significant reduction in the cost of FSC certification, which has previously proved a major obstacle for small woodland owners and managers.
Please click here for further information on SLIMFs.
Non Timber Forest Products
FSC certification is certification of the forest as a whole system; not simply certification of the trees in the forest. This means that there is the potential for other forest products to carry the FSC Trademarks as well as timber or roundwood: nuts, moss, honey, meat, fruit. The only limitation is what the forest produces.
In April 1998, FSC published a policy on certification and labelling of Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) which allowed certification bodies to certify and approve labelling of NTFPs using their in-house standards that had been approved by FSC. FSC National Initiatives have drafted specific standards for NTFPs in their areas. Some of these NTFP Standards have been approved, including the management of deer in UK forests. In UK forests there is the potential for many NTFPs to be commercially developed: FSC certified venison is already on the market.
Any UK forest owner or manager interested in NTFP certification should contact FSC UK for further information.
Please visit our Business Resource Centre to download policy and standards documents as well as factsheets.
Please visit the FSC Resource Centre for Pest Management for information on FSC's pesticide policy.