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Principle 5: Benefits from the Forest

As part of our series of articles exploring the FSC Principles and Criteria, we take a look at Principle 5 and how it is applied in the UK.

(© FSC International)© FSC InternationalThe next of FSC’s Principles that we explore concerns the economic aspects of forests and how physical products and other tangible benefits can contribute to their responsible management.

Globally, in forest areas at risk from deforestation or degradation, enhancing economic benefits from forests and ensuring their equitable distribution are crucial factors for the long-term sustainability of forests. Providing livelihoods to local people through a range of sustainable forest management activities can reduce the incentive for local people or forest enterprises to participate in damaging alternative practices such as illegal logging or conversion to agriculture. As the oft-repeated phrase has it, the wood that pays is the wood that stays. To ensure economic benefits from forests are pursued responsibly, Principle 5 of FSC's Principles and Criteria stipulates that the various potential products and services of the forest are managed efficiently in order to maintain or enhance long term economic viability and the range of environmental and social benefits.

Economically viable forest management is defined in the preamble of the Principles and Criteria as ‘forest operations [that] are structured and managed so as to be sufficiently profitable, without generating financial profit at the expense of the forest resource, the ecosystem, or affected communities. The tension between the need to generate adequate financial returns and the principles of responsible forest operations can be reduced through efforts to market the full range of forest products and services for their best value.’

Forests provide a wide range of goods and services, many of which can potentially be FSC certified. While we tend to think primarily in terms of timber and other wood-based products, the production and sale of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as wild foods and latex, offer supplementary opportunities for supporting sustainable forest management activities and contributing to local economic development. FSC has taken a step further with its Ecosystem Services Procedure that enables forest managers to market verified positive impacts on ecosystem services.

The full range of issues covered under Principle 5 are:

  • 5.1 Enabling the production of diversified benefits and/or products, based on the range of resources and ecosystem services existing in the Management Unit in order to strengthen and diversify the local economy.
  • 5.2 Harvesting products and services from the Management Unit at or below a level which can be permanently sustained.
  • 5.3 Demonstrating that the positive and negative externalities of operations are included in the management plan.
  • 5.4 Using local processing, local services and local value-adding where available, and making reasonable attempts to help establish these services if they are not locally available.
  • 5.5 Demonstrating through planning and expenditures a commitment to long-term economic viability.

(For the full text of each Criterion, see the Principles and Criteria.)

For FSC Forest Management certificate holders, compliance with these requirements is assessed by independent certification bodies using the set of indicators adapted to national, regional or local conditions in the applicable approved forest stewardship standard.


What Does This Mean in the UK?

Indicators adapted to the UK context are contained in our national forest stewardship standard, familiar to most forest managers as the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, or UKWAS.

In the UK, FSC certification is credited as contributing to shifts in the approaches and objectives of commercial forestry that are more environmentally and socially sensitive.

“Some things stand out consistently in my 20-year experience in forest management, the improvements in management planning, recognition and protection of high conservation values and reduced or safer pesticide use”, reflects SGS Programme Manager for Forest Management Certification, Douglas Orr. “I think these would have happened over time, in the UK at least, without certification but not in all countries. What certification has undoubtedly done in my opinion, including for the UK, is driving these improvements much more quickly. That must be a good thing for society's view of modern forestry and something forest management can capitalise upon. FSC certification of Ecosystem Services could take that social value opportunity even further”. The contribution of the UK’s woods to society is now viewed not just in relation to their timber productivity, but from a new perspective, that of ecosystem services. Developments in the measurement and valuation of these services may represent a shift in how benefits from woods are defined and financially rewarded.

An important part of a forest management plan (see Principle 7) is an assessment of the woodland resource which identifies potential products and services (indicator 5.1.1/UKWAS 2.2.1). The manager must also consider how those products and services can be used sustainably, and the UK national standard addresses this in three ways:

  • 5.2.1 The owner/manager shall plan and implement measures to maintain and/or enhance long-term soil and hydrological functions. [UKWAS 2.4.1]
  • 5.2.2 Timber shall normally be harvested from the WMU at or below a level which can be permanently sustained. [UKWAS 2.4.2(a)]
  • 5.2.3 Selective harvesting shall not be to the long-term detriment of the quality and value of stands. [UKWAS 2.4.2(b)]

The first is to consider the productivity of the site itself (indicator 5.2.1); management must not be to detriment of the fundamental productive potential of the site as determined by the basic factors of soil and water. The second is to consider the quantitative rate of harvesting of standing trees (indicator 5.2.2), which must be sustainable. The third is to consider the qualitative effects of harvesting (indicator 5.2.3), which must maintain the timber quality of trees in the long term.

A focus on sustained productivity also means looking ahead at future climate scenarios modelled for the UK. Guidance accompanying Criterion 5.2 steers owners and managers to take into account the resilience of the woodland and different species to climate change to ensure the long-term vitality of woodland resources.

Of course, there are many different models of forest ownership and management in the UK, and economic viability does not always depend on marketing products; management may instead depend on the support of a community, or of donors to a charity. Whichever model they follow, forest managers must ensure that there is sufficient investment to support the planned management activities long-term (indicator 5.5.2/UKWAS 2.1.3(b)).

At present in the UK, the preferential use of local services as per Criterion 5.4 is limited by EU competition rules. Our standard focuses instead on providing local people with equitable opportunities for employment and to supply goods and services (indicator 5.4.1/UKWAS 5.3.1), for example by offering small-scale contracts that are within the capacity of local suppliers or service providers. Currently, the standard addresses building capacity in the forest sector by promoting training and encouraging and supporting new recruits to forestry (indicator 5.4.2/UKWAS 5.5.2), but as greater demands are placed on the resources and capacity of forestry workers to deliver woodland expansion targets, could our standard go further to enable these opportunities?

Specialist markets are being developed for sustainably produced non-timber woodland products to strengthen and support rural development. For instance, as part of the Dewis Gwyllt project, community woodland groups in Wales are developing supply-chains to process birch syrup from responsibly managed forests. As for timber, requirements are set out for the allowable harvest levels of non-timber woodland products based on best practice:

  • 5.2.4 Harvesting of non-timber woodland products or use of ecosystem services from the WMU shall be at or below a level which can be permanently sustained. [UKWAS 2.4.3]

In considering future productivity of land-use in the UK, many proponents are calling for integration of the forestry and agriculture sectors, advocating for agroforestry approaches to deliver environmental and economic co-benefits. FSC UK are also focused on supporting forest managers to gain benefits from their management practices that secure the provision of a range of ecosystem services. We are doing this by working to connect forest managers to market opportunities through the verification of positive impacts on ecosystem services.


Have Your Say

Does our standard do enough to ensure economic viability of forest management in the UK? Could it go further in its requirements to support and diversify local economies? Should we try to bring agroforestry explicitly within the scope of the standard?

With the review of the UK national forest stewardship now under way, you might already have taken the opportunity to make your views known; if a decision is made to revise the standard there will be further chances. We would encourage you to keep reading these articles and to take the opportunity to participate in public consultations on the standard in due course.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about FSC’s forest management requirements in the UK, feel free to get in touch with Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies (owen@fsc-uk.org) or Forestry Outreach Manager Amy Willox (amy@fsc-uk.org).


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