Forest Management FAQs

(c) FSC International
(c) Nathan Davies - taken in Brechfa Forest in Wales

Please take a look at the FAQs below for answers to some of our most common enquiries.

Please get in touch with us if you have any further enquiries or if you require clarification.


What’s the relationship between the FSC national forest stewardship standard and the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS)?

UK forest certification is unique in the world in that the standard used, the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS), is based on the UK government’s own standard for sustainable forest management and the requirements of two certification schemes, FSC and PEFC. The process of standard development and its governance are described on the UKWAS website (http://ukwas.org.uk/).

Crucially for FSC, UKWAS fulfils all of the requirements of our international Principles and Criteria and has been approved on that basis by FSC International. The requirements of the official FSC national forest stewardship standard for the UK contain the same text as UKWAS, but presented in the order of the Principles and Criteria; in practice, most forest owners and managers refer to the UKWAS document, in which requirements are presented in the way in which management may actually be implemented in the woodland.

Although UKWAS is developed to form the basis of certification for both FSC and PEFC, some requirements of the two schemes may differ, for example in terms of chain of custody documentation. Of particular note are the more strict FSC requirements in terms of avoiding certain highly hazardous pesticides; for more information click here.


Why have I seen different versions of the FSC Principles and Criteria?

The FSC International Principles and Criteria are the basis for FSC forest management certification around the world. These Principles and Criteria are interpreted and applied at the country level during the development of national forest stewardship standards. The current version of the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, UKWAS 3.1, incorporates the requirements of version 4 of the Principles and Criteria. Since UKWAS 3.1 was released, the Principles and Criteria have been reviewed in one of FSC’s largest democratic exercises to date, and version 5 was released in 2012. This version has been further updated to take account of changes agreed at the FSC General Assembly in 2014 and to correct typographical errors. The current version, 5-2, along with the associated International Generic Indicators (IGIs), is the basis for the ongoing revision of the UK Woodland Assurance Standard to produce UKWAS 4.

For more information, click here or see the two versions of the Principles and Criteria below.


How do certified forests differ from uncertified forests in the UK?

The United Kingdom is well regulated and a very high standard is set for forest management by the government’s UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). Owners and managers of certified forests are expected to meet all of the requirements of the UK Forestry Standard, but also to go further by complying with the FSC national forest stewardship standard, to meet in full our vision of responsible forest management that is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable. While there is a significant amount of overlap between UKFS and the FSC standard, perhaps the most important difference in certified forests is that conformity with the FSC standard is rigorously and independently audited to provide assurance that the highest standards of forest management are being met.

Requirements of the FSC national forest stewardship standard which go beyond those of UKFS include:

  • declaring an intention to protect and maintain the woodland and its ecological integrity in the long term;
  • making management plans openly available to interested stakeholders;
  • providing documentation which enables all timber to be traced back to the woodland of origin;
  • favouring native species when establishing new woodlands;
  • developing an effective Integrated Pest Management Strategy;
  • refraining from using highly hazardous pesticides identified by FSC, unless granted a derogation;
  • refraining from using genetically modified organisms;
  • engaging in consultation which goes beyond statutory requirements; and,
  • making reasonable efforts to meet demands for further public access, particularly for the purpose of environmental education.

FSC requirements for conservation measures are described in another answer below.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


Do certification requirements differ between plantations and semi-natural woodlands?

The basic principles of environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management apply equally to all types of forest, and the FSC national forest stewardship standard is designed to be applicable in as wide a range of woodland setting as possible.

There are requirements which are specific to plantations, however, and requirements which are more likely to apply to plantations than to other forests. There are limitations on the conversion of semi-natural forests to plantations and in most cases plantations established on the site of semi-natural woodlands after 1985 are not eligible for certification. Amongst all the other requirements of the FSC Principles and Criteria, plantation owners and managers must:

  • gradually restructure even-aged woodlands to diversify ages and habitats;
  • increasingly favour lower impact silvicultural systems where they are suited to the site and species;
  • design, create, use and maintain roads, timber extraction tracks and associated drainage in a manner that minimises their environmental impact;
  • minimise the use of pesticides and fertilisers and try to avoid their use where practicable;
  • not use genetically modified organisms;
  • restore or maintain valuable woodland and other semi-natural habitats which have been colonised, planted, or incorporated into plantations, but which have retained their ecological characteristics; and,
  • maintain and enhance remnant features of ancient woodland in all plantations on ancient woodland sites.

There are also requirements which are specific to semi-natural woodland. Owners and managers of such woodlands must:

  • adopt lower impact silvicultural systems and, in semi-natural woodlands over 10 ha, fell no more than 10% in any five year period unless justified in terms of biodiversity enhancement or lower impact;
  • prioritise enhancement and/or restoration;
  • not introduce non-native species nor allow such species to become established, and contain and progressively remove any underplanted non-native or invasive species; and,
  • where natural regeneration is insufficient, plant using stock from source identified stands in the local native seed zone wherever it is available.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


What are the requirements for conservation and habitat creation in plantations?

There are general requirements for woodland design and restructuring which are particularly relevant for providing more diverse habitats in plantation forests, including requirements for proportions of the forest area to be managed as open space or to carry native broadleaved species, and for diversifying the age structure of even-aged woodland.

Some requirements for conservation and enhancement of biodiversity apply specifically to designated sites, but most apply to all types of woodland. They include requirements for:

  • maintaining or restoring valuable woodland and other semi-natural habitats (e.g. moorland, heathland, wood pasture and grassland) which have been incorporated into plantations;
  • managing a minimum of 15% of the woodland area with conservation and enhancement of biodiversity as a major objective, including long-term retentions and natural reserves;
  • taking action to provide a diversity of both standing and fallen deadwood habitats and to accumulate deadwood volumes and maintain veteran trees; and,
  • progressively improving the biodiversity, environmental and cultural values of plantations on ancient woodland sites.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


What conservation grazing is allowed in woods?

There is no specific FSC guidance on the use of grazing to manage habitats, but a number of general requirements are relevant:

  • Grazing and browsing impacts must be monitored and the results incorporated into management planning; in other words, grazing must be regulated so that it does not adversely impact on the other requirements of certification.
  • An important distinction must be made between restoration of native habitats and conversion of woodland to other land uses. There are requirements for the protection and/or restoration of designated sites and other important semi-natural habitats, but any other conversion to non-forested land is only permitted if the new land use is more valuable than any type of practicably achievable woodland cover in terms of its biodiversity, landscape or historic environment benefits and if other specific requirements are met.

As the appropriateness of grazing depends very much on local circumstances, woodland owners and managers should seek the views of their certification body.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


Can Christmas trees be certified?

There are various circumstances under which Christmas trees can be grown within a wider certified woodland management unit, provided all of the other requirements of certification are met. These may include trees grown in discrete areas within a wood, thinnings, tops from harvested forest trees, mature trees, and naturally regenerated trees removed from open land managed for biodiversity or landscape value. Christmas trees must be grown using traditional, non-intensive techniques. Pure Christmas tree plantations, subjected to intensive horticultural management, are beyond the scope of the forest stewardship standard.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


How often are woods audited and does certification require renewal?

For very large forests there may be a pre-evaluation, but for most woodland owners and managers auditing begins with a main evaluation by a certification body. If this evaluation is passed, an FSC forest management certificate will be issued which is valid for a maximum of five years.

During the period of validity of the certificate, surveillance evaluations will be carried out at least annually. In some cases these may not be field visits, however, and may concentrate on reviews of documentation and records; a single small or low intensity managed forest (SLIMF) only requires one field visit during the period of validity, while a group of SLIMFs with fewer than 100 members only requires two.

When the certificate nears expiry, a re-evaluation will be carried out to determine whether it can be re-issued for a further five years.

For certification of multiple forest management units or for group schemes, the minimum number of sites visited in field evaluations is lower for surveillance evaluations and re-evaluations than for main evaluations. The exact number of sites to be visited is calculated mathematically, but in general the smaller the woods and the greater the number of small woods, the smaller the proportion of sites to be visited.

For more information on forest management evaluations see the FSC standard FSC-STD-20-007 below.


Are all criteria mandatory, and are some more important than others?

There is no hierarchy amongst the FSC Principles and Criteria, and all apply equally.

However, the UK national forest stewardship standard recognises that some woodland owners and managers may feel that certain requirements are not appropriate to their situation. Some flexibility to allow local adaptation may therefore be acceptable if:

  • it is not physically possible to achieve the requirement in the woodland or the approach taken is an equally or more effective way of achieving the objectives intended by the certification standard; and,
  • the impacts of the action are carefully monitored.

For more information see the FSC and UKWAS versions of the national forest stewardship standard available for download above.


How do woods pass or fail?

FSC does not insist on perfection in satisfying the FSC Principles and Criteria, as unforeseen changes in cultural, ecological, economic and social environments may cause occasional failures in performance. In practice, the significance of failing to meet a certification requirement will be judged on a case by case basis by a certification body. A major non-conformity or a large number of minor non-conformities at a main evaluation will prevent a certificate from being issued. Other levels of non-conformity may lead to suspension of a certificate at a surveillance evaluation or to a certificate not being re-issued at a re-evaluation. In less serious cases, non-conformities will be addressed through time bound Corrective Action Requests (CARs).

For more information on non-conformities and certification decision making see the FSC standard FSC-STD-20-007 below.


Is certification lost if a wood changes ownership?

The new owner would have to inform the relevant certification body immediately of the change in ownership, and it would be for the certification body to decide whether the owner met their requirements for the certificate to remain valid.


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