100 years of state forestry in the UK

This autumn sees the celebration of two significant milestones for state forestry in the UK: the centenary of the Forestry Act of 1919 that established the Forestry Commission, and the 20th anniversary of FSC certification of the Commission's forest estate in England, Scotland and Wales.

A century ago, following the end of the First World War, woodland cover was at an all-time low in the UK and many of the forests we know today simply didn’t exist.

In September 1919, the Forestry Commission was established by the Forestry Act to undertake a tree planting mission of truly epic scale, replanting our woodlands, creating a future supply of home-grown timber and providing thousands of jobs for demobilised servicemen. The vision of reforesting Britain had captured the political and public imagination.

Fast forward 100 years and woodland cover has more than doubled, with over 10% of England and 6% of Wales now covered by trees.

In the late 1990s, the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly saw responsibility for forests split by national borders, with the creation of Forestry Commission England, Scotland and Wales as sub-departments of the Forestry Commission of Great Britain.

Further changes followed in April 2013, when Forestry Commission Wales merged with other agencies to become Natural Resources Wales, and in April 2019, when Forestry Commission Scotland was split into two separate bodies: Forestry and Land Scotland, which manages and promotes the national forest estate in Scotland, and Scottish Forestry, which is responsible for regulation and policymaking. Publicly-owned forests in England remain the responsibility of the Forestry Commission, through its sub-agency Forestry England.

Today, these devolved agencies are continuing the good work started by the Forestry Commission in 1919 and they are all celebrating another important milestone this autumn: 20 years of FSC certification. To mark the occasion, Forestry England and Natural Resources Wales gave us an insight into their work managing our forests, the difference that FSC certification has made and what the future holds for forestry.

Natural Resources Wales (FSC-C115912)

In November 2019, the Welsh Government’s Woodland Estate (WGWE) will have been FSC certified for 20 years.

FSC certification fits well with the legislative framework in Wales, which requires sustainable management of natural resources and progress towards well-being goals, because it covers social, economic and environmental criteria and provides independent assurance of the Natural Resources Wales approach to responsible woodland management.

The WGWE supplies around 850,000 tonnes of FSC certified timber – over 50% of all timber in Wales – each year, which directly supports thousands of jobs and contributes to the Welsh economy.

Natural Resources Wales doesn’t just manage the WGWE for timber though – the agency is also the biggest provider of outdoor recreation in Wales with visitor centres, forest parks, mountain bike trails as well as many kilometres of walking trails.

Biodiversity is also key, and Natural Resources Wales has a long-term plan to restore around 19,000 hectares of ancient woodland and afforested deep peat. These areas are host to red squirrels, water voles, otter, osprey, pine marten and many other key species, and the agency’s management plans reflect the importance of these.

Looking to the future, the Welsh Government recognises the need to plant more trees and improve the management of existing woodlands across Wales. Its strategy Woodlands for Wales seeks to increase the amount of tree cover in Wales and Natural Resources Wales is working with the Welsh Government to identify ways to do this, including facilitating the creation of a new National Forest for Wales.

The Centenary Trees project will feature creative tree planting to commemorate those who died during the First World War. This will start with a dedication of the arboretum at Garwnant Visitor Centre in October.

FSC certification will also help shape the future plans of Natural Resources Wales. Rachel Chamberlain, Team Leader Estate Planning, explains, “Our commitment to maintaining FSC certification is as strong as ever, and this is supported and endorsed by Welsh Ministers. Woodlands play a vital role in our landscape and the level of ambition for the future role of trees and woodlands in supporting decarbonisation, climate change adaptation, nature-based solutions, resource efficiency, health and well-being is high.

“The forestry sector in Wales faces the same challenges associated with Brexit, climate change, pests and diseases as the rest of the UK but 20 years of FSC certification of the WGWE means it’s in good shape to face the future.”

Forestry England (FSC-C123214)

(© Forestry Commission)© Forestry CommissionOver the past 100 years the Forestry Commission has evolved from focusing on timber production to also protecting habitats for wildlife and opening up forests for people to enjoy.

Today, Forestry England, an agency of the Forestry Commission, looks after more than 1,500 forests, producing 1.3 million cubic metres of timber, welcoming over 230 million visits each year and securing over £26billion in natural capital value for our nation.

Throughout 2019, the Forestry Commission has been celebrating 100 years of achievement while looking to the future.

New areas of woodland are being planted at Sence Valley in the Midlands and in Kielder Forest in the North East. A film installation called The Custody Code has been telling the story of sustainable timber, while other projects have celebrated the importance of forests for wellbeing or tackled issues including climate change and tree disease.

The centenary year has offered both moments for reflection, and opportunities to look forward to the next hundred years of forestry.

There is another milestone for forestry in England in 2019. 20 years ago, the Forestry Commission became the first state forest service to have all its land certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

James Simpson, Director of Operations at Forestry England, says, “The Forestry Commission’s decision to embrace forest certification in 1999 was a critical moment in our history; we recognised the need to demonstrate sustainable forest management and to welcome the independent evaluation which underpins all credible forest certification standards.

“We have never looked back. The Forestry Stewardship Council have been a positive part of this century of forestry achievement in the UK, a century in which our industry has blossomed into a multi-purpose enterprise, operating with confidence in our positive environmental credentials, and secure in the knowledge we are part of the solution to combat the impacts of a heating planet.”

To find out more about the Forestry Commission's centenary, visit forestryengland.uk/100

© Forest Stewardship Council® · FSC® F000231