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What do forest management certificate holders think of FSC?

Since 2012, the British Woodlands Survey series, co-ordinated by the Sylva Foundation, has provided a valuable window into the thoughts and actions of a huge number of woodland owners and managers in the UK. Many of you will have seen the results of, and perhaps even have contributed to, the British Woodlands Survey 2017.

Recognising the wide reach of the Survey, FSC UK took the opportunity to fund a series of questions to build on our existing knowledge of the drivers for and barriers to FSC forest management certification, and the results are summarised below.

Who responded?

423 survey respondents answered the question ‘Are the woodlands you own or manage covered by FSC forest management certification?’. Of these respondents, 20% said that their woods were currently covered by FSC FM certification, 10% said they had been FSC certified in the past, and 50% said that they would consider FSC certification in the future. We were surprised (and delighted!) by the proportion of woodland owners/managers who would potentially consider FSC certification.

Of course, these results relate to the number of respondents, rather than to the area of woodland they own or manage. As we would expect from what we already know about FSC certificate holders, currently certified woodlands were the biggest (median 101.2 ha). But those potentially interested in FSC owned or managed very small woods indeed (median 8.2 ha), and woodlands which were previously certified were also surprisingly small (median 24.3 ha).

In terms of location, as for BWS2017 as a whole, the majority of responses were from England. Scotland had the highest proportion of respondents currently in FSC forest management certification. England had the highest proportion who have left FSC, but also the highest proportion who would consider certification, with Wales somewhere between Scotland and England. Only one response came from Northern Ireland, from a respondent who would consider FSC certification in the future.

Patterns of woodland ownership were fairly consistent for all certification statuses, with the vast majority of respondents representing personal agricultural (i.e. part of a privately-owned farm or rural estate) or personal non-agricultural (i.e. a privately-owned woodland) holdings.

Finally, it is interesting to note that while most currently certified woodlands were dominated by conifers, the woodlands of those who would potentially consider certification were mainly broadleaved.

% respondents identifying various factors which attracted them or their clients to FSC forest management certificationWhat attracted current certificate holders to FSC?

Of those owners or tenants whose woodlands are currently certified, 25% mentioned access to markets as a motivation. Interestingly, reputational benefits ranked more highly than price premiums as motivating factors. We also saw the continuing positive effect of certification being a pre-requisite for accessing certain management grants in the past, with nearly 15% of respondents citing this as a factor which attracted them to FSC.

Agents gave similar answers for the woodland owners they represented. Over 50% mentioned access to markets, 44% mentioned reputational benefits, and 34% mentioned price premiums.

Of those who had left certification, a third said that it was too costly and 31% said it involved too much paperwork. Others cited the lack of price premiums or market requirements for certified material, but fewer than 10% of respondents said that it was too difficult to meet standard requirements.

% respondents identifying various factors which would attract them to FSC forest management certificationWhat might attract potential certificate holders to FSC?

35% of respondents said that they would be attracted to FSC for personal assurance that their woodlands were well managed; that personal assurance is more important to most respondents than product prices or market access is consistent with what we have learned from a far more limited survey of small woodland owners, reported in Forest Matters May 2017, for many of whom the sale of products was not a high priority.

In terms of actual certification requirements, a reduction in paperwork (cited by 35% of respondents) was more important than simpler standard requirements (cited by 31%), which was in turn more important than lower costs (cited by 27%). Other interesting specific responses were: ‘a more practical and workable approach to chemical weed control and to control of pests, in particular squirrels’; ‘being able to use Grown in Britain’; ‘integration with FC schemes’; and, ‘wait until the trees are marketable’. Some respondents clearly felt the need for more information before they could make a decision.

What can we learn from this, and what are we doing about it?

Responses from those who have left certification are consistent with what we hear informally regarding costs and paperwork. Clarified guidance on verifiers of conformance in UKWAS 4 may go some way towards reducing the paperwork burden, particularly for smaller woodlands. The planned revision of the FSC group scheme standard FSC-STD-30-005 may go some way towards reducing direct costs of certification, but it will also be necessary to seek changes to FSC-STD-20-007, which governs forest management evaluations.

For those potentially interested in FSC forest management certification, we clearly need to do more to communicate the benefits and practicalities. But we also need to recognise that the benefits they may seek are not necessarily the same as those sought by current certificate holders, and may be far more about personal assurance than about marketing FSC certified products. There is a strong push in the UK to bring more woodlands into management to supply a greater proportion of our domestic demands of timber and other forest products. FSC’s mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests, and we seek to achieve that by bringing more woodlands into FSC certification. Can we find the right balance between the objectives of owners and wider societal needs?

To attract more woodland owners into certification, it seems that we need to reduce paperwork, simplify standard requirements, and reduce costs, in that order. Of course, these factors are to some degree inter-related. As part of our ongoing work to try to make certification more accessible for smaller woodland owners, and with the support of FSC International’s New Approaches project, FSC UK will shortly be embarking on a project to develop and forest test a radically new standard specifically tailored to such woodlands. We intend to really push the boat out and try something that has never been tried before within the FSC system. While the result may not gain universal acceptance, we hope that the lessons learned will be valuable for FSC not just in the UK but around the world.

In parallel, we will be exploring the cost and credibility implications of proportionate, risk-based approaches to auditing, which we hope will feed into the planned revision of FSC-STD-30-005 and any future revision of FSC-STD-20-007; this, more than anything, may make a real difference to the costs of certification.

A call will soon go out for members of a standard development group and a consultative forum for this project. Keep an eye on the FSC UK website for updates. If you have any questions in the meantime or would like to register your interest at this stage, please contact FSC UK Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies at

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