Technical Updates

Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Helping UK foresters to identify and manage High Conservation Value areas

Protections for High Conservation Values (HCVs) are a key part of FSC’s international Principles and Criteria. A national framework is intended to help foresters to identify and manage HCVs in the UK context.

Principle 9 in FSC’s international Principles and Criteria V5-2 requires forest management certificate holders to maintain and/or enhance the High Conservation Values within the areas they manage.

Where did the concept of HCVs come from?

FSC defined four categories of high conservation value forest in V4-0 of the Principles and Criteria. Over time the concept was revised and expanded to include other ecosystems, resulting in the six High Conservation Values in V5-2 of the Principles and Criteria. The HCV approach is now promoted by a wide range of organisations who together make up the HCV Network.

The six HCVs

• HCV 1 Species diversity
• HCV 2 Landscape-level ecosystems and mosaics
• HCV 3 Ecosystems and habitats
• HCV 4 Critical ecosystem services
• HCV 5 Community needs
• HCV 6 Cultural values

Each category is defined in greater detail in Criterion 9.1, but these are still broad definitions which need to apply in every context in which the FSC system operates all around the world.

To make sense of the six HCVs in the national context, the UK National Forest Stewardship Standard sets out requirements under Principle 9 using language more familiar to forest owners and managers, like Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland. But even in a national standard there is a limit to how much guidance can be provided to help owners and managers. That’s why FSC requires standard developers to produce a National HCV Framework.

The UK National HCV Framework

"The National High Conservation Value Framework is a tool for the identification, management and monitoring of HCVs in forests in the UK," says FSC UK Forest Standards Manager Dr Owen Davies. "Using it is not compulsory but we strongly recommend it to help owners and managers meet the requirements of Principle 9."

The Framework explains how the six HCVs should be interpreted in the UK; where information can be found on identifying them, including maps; which stakeholders should be consulted about identifying and managing them; what the likely threats to their condition are; how they should be managed; and how their condition should be monitored.

"The guidance on management is deliberately quite general," notes Owen, "because so much is context dependent. As in the national standard, wherever possible we have concentrated on published best practice and freely available sources of information. That does mean, though, that we need to update the document fairly regularly to make sure the links to online sources still work!"

An updated version (V1-1) was released in February 2019, and further updates of sources will be carried out every year. A full revision of the Framework will be carried out when the UK National Forest Stewardship Standard is revised.

Where do HCVs feature in the UK standard?

High Conservation Value requirements are easy to find in the official FSC version of the National Forest Stewardship Standard, FSC-STD-GBR-03-2017 V1-0 EN, as they all appear under Principle 9, although HCVs are also referenced elsewhere, such as in restrictions on forest conversion under Criterion 6.9.

Finding HCVs in the user-friendly UKWAS version is less straightforward as the structure of the standard is different. They appear primarily in sections 4.1 (statutory designated sites and protected species), 4.2 (ancient semi-natural woodlands), 4.3 (plantations on ancient woodland sites), 4.5 (watershed management and erosion control) and 4.8 (cultural and historical features/sites), but also appear in 2.3.1(c) (consultation), 2.11.2 (management strategies and actions), 2.15.1(d) and 2.15.2 (monitoring), 3.1.4 (cessation or relocation of operations), and 5.1.1(b) (water supplies).

If you have any questions about the National High Conservation Value Framework for the UK or if you have any suggestions for sources of information to be included in future versions, please contact Owen at

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