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Friday, 20 December 2019
Small Woods Project update – why make one standard when you can make two?

(© FSC UK / E. Parker)© FSC UK / E. Parker

Incredibly, it’s twelve months since the last written update on our Small Woods project. During that time, despite the difficulties of coordinating face-to-face meetings, the Standards Development Group (SDG) has continued its discussions and has made a lot of progress towards a draft standard. There was a hiatus over the summer holidays, and we took the opportunity for a period of reflection, holding a Steering Group meeting to review the rate of progress and direction of travel. Since that meeting, the next steps have been agreed with the SDG, and we now have some significant developments to share with you.

Firstly, as part of the evidence gathering and context setting which informed the work of the SDG, we have produced a country profile for the UK based on FSC guidance on risk-based approaches to standard development. The country profile is now available for download from the FSC UK project pages.

In our previous update, we described the size and harvesting intensity thresholds provisionally agreed by the SDG. Exploring various scenarios for the harvesting threshold (for a Sitka spruce plantation, oak high forest or Sweet chestnut coppice), we found that, in extreme cases, the threshold might allow for woods of 100 hectares or more to be included in the scope of the standard. Opinion was divided within the SDG on whether it was acceptable to cover low intensity management on such a scale, but we agreed to continue to move forward on this provisional basis.

However, knowing that the standard could potentially apply to such large woods undoubtedly (and rightly) influenced the thinking of the Group regarding the standard contents, and led to a more cautious approach. The original vision for the project was to use the FSC Principles as a loose framework and to develop indicators for specific issues of concern, rather than following the detailed structure of the Criteria. In the event, though, the SDG agreed to use UKWAS, the user-friendly version of our existing approved national standard, as a starting point, and to decide which requirements to keep, modify or drop. The result was a significantly shortened standard (down from >160 indicators to <100), reworded to avoid ‘standard speak’ and to hopefully be more user friendly for non-specialist readers.
While much shorter than UKWAS, the resulting draft standard was still much longer than we originally envisioned. After discussion with colleagues elsewhere in the FSC Network and following the Steering Group meeting in September, we have agreed to follow a two-pronged approach:

• After further refinement, the current draft standard will be presented to the UKWAS Steering Group as an input to the revision process which will result in UKWAS 5. The standard would effectively represent a scale, intensity and risk (SIR) adjusted version of the national standard.

• In parallel, we would return to the original vision of a more radical standard for even smaller woods. A rough draft has already been produced, based on some of the key themes in the existing draft.

‘I think the Standards Development Group took their name too literally,’ says FSC UK Forest Standards Manager, Owen Davies; ‘they obviously felt obliged to produce more than one standard! Although this wasn’t what we had in mind when we started the project, it’s actually a really interesting outcome, and it sounds like standard developers in other parts of the world are coming up with similar results.’

The input to UKWAS 5 was proposed to the UKWAS Steering Group at their meeting in November, and we are pleased to report that the Group accepted our current draft standard for consideration as part of the review and revision process. That means that any future public consultation on this draft is likely to be under the auspices of UKWAS, and carried alongside consultations on the main standard.
In the meantime, we will return to drafting a completely new standard for smaller woods, which we will put out for public consultation separately early in 2020.

You don’t have to wait until a formal public consultation to share your thoughts, of course. Feel free to get in touch any time about the direction of travel of this project, or to suggest any specific issues we should be addressing. Just drop an e-mail to Owen Davies at, and, if you haven’t already, consider joining the project consultative forum.

© Forest Stewardship Council® · FSC® F000231