Small Woods Project update

What is a small wood, and what are the issues to address in an FSC standard?

Small Woods PAWs event (© FSC UK)© FSC UKBack in June we announced the launch of our small woods project, which aims to trial a radical approach to developing an FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard for small and community woodlands.

A Standards Development Group (SDG) for the project, with balanced representation of economic, environmental and social interests, was appointed in July. You can find a list of the SDG members, along with links to their affiliations, on the project web pages.

"A very wise colleague once advised me, when planning a programme of work, to come up with a realistic timescale and then triple it. I should have heeded his advice on this occasion!" notes FSC UK Forest Standards Manager, Dr Owen Davies. "Trying to bring together six busy individuals from all over the country was always going to be challenging, and so we’re already seeing slippage in our ambitious project timescale. But I'm pleased to say that we do now have real progress to report."

The SDG has now held two face to face meetings. These have included fascinating discussions about the motivations of small and community woodlands for considering FSC certification. In some cases these are definitely economic – either through conventional markets for timber or non-timber forest products or through emerging markets for payments for ecosystem services – but in other cases they are very personal – for assurance of the quality of current management or indeed of future management after the present owners have passed away.

With such a diversity of motivations, it has been difficult to decide which woodlands to include in the scope of the standard – whether based on size, woodland type, ownership, objectives of management or intensity of management. After much discussion, it was agreed to keep things simple, with a size threshold (woods up to 25 hectares) and a threshold for timber harvesting rates (timber production less than 5,000m³ per five year certificate period). Both of these thresholds will be kept under review, and in particular a number of scenarios will be explored for the timber harvesting threshold to see whether SDG members are comfortable with all of the potential outcomes. But for now they will guide the SDG in assessing risks and opportunities and developing standard requirements.

As for the assessment of risks, we have been fortunate to see the recent publication of FSC’s new procedure and guideline on risk-based approaches to developing National Forest Stewardship Standards. While our unusual approach to standard development doesn’t lend itself to following the procedure exactly, the guideline is certainly useful, and the SDG has agreed to use some of the guiding questions and the approach to profiling the national context in assessing risks.

So the next stage of the project is to gather information to build a national profile – taking into account forest and forestry conditions, socio-economic context, FSC culture, and the standard development process – and to answer the following questions:

  • What are the challenges for forest management in the UK?
  • What are the biggest opportunities for FSC to make a difference?
  • Where are the gaps between common forestry practice and FSC requirements?
  • Which areas of our standard cause more concerns among stakeholders?
  • Where may unnecessary effort be reduced?

We would welcome your input to answering these questions.

Once we have gathered the evidence we need, we expect to hold more SDG meetings in the new year, with the aim of producing a draft standard for public consultation in the spring.

To share your thoughts on this project, please get in touch with Owen Davies at owen at fsc-uk point org. To be kept up to date with the latest developments, why not consider joining the project consultative forum?

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