United Kingdom has a long history of clearing forest because of agriculture, timber exploitation and industrialization. The natural forest cover declined to 5% by the early twentieth century. UK forests and woodlands cover 2.4 million hectares and UK demand for wood products is only 13 per cent being produced domestically. UK is one of the largest consumers of wood products. UK uses a large amount of timber, paper, boards and other wood products each year. Around 85 per cent of this has to be imported, fpr example, from Russia, North Africa and Scandinavia. The current level of wood consumption is far from sustainable. (Friends of the Earth)
Forests are very important for the ecosystems, they contribute significantly to the biodiversity, especially the natural forests. Ancient woodland contains the richest habitats in Britain. Recreational use of forests in the developed world has grown during the 20th Century. Forest is very important for the recreation and tourism, such as walking, natural history and other outdoor activities. In the UK, the Forestry Commission estimates that there are about 50 million people visits the forests per year.
The evolution of UK forestry policy will be discussed. The policy has changed in the recent times, the reasons and how it has changed will be talked about also.
Evolution of UK Forestry Policy
In the nineteenth century, UK used large amount of timber for various purposes. For example, papers, furniture, building ships and weapons, especially during the period of World War I, and industrial revolution, all these led to the declines of the forestry in UK, although most of the timber were imported from other countries. Also, hunting was a very common activity, especially for the Royal families. All these upset the sustainability of the forestry in UK.
The Forestry Commission was established in 1919, it was responsible for promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production of timber in UK (Forestry Act 1967). And the large amount of timbers were being used during the World War I, so the Forestry Commission was responsible for the recover and maintenance of the timber reserve. Under the Transfer of Woods Act 1923 most of the important Crown forests were transferred to the Forestry Commission. By 1939 the Commission had purchased 655,000 acres of plantable land cheaply at the post war period because of the agricultural depression. It also had planted 370,000 acres, and had opened three national forest parks.
The Second World War saw shortages of imported timber and the Forestry Commission mainly strategic on the massive supply of timber for the war event. So after the war, restoring of the forestry became the major duty. It planted lots of trees in the public land. However, most of the lands were privately owned. In 1947, Forestry Commission had agreement with the landowners in order to plant in private land, for example, provided subsidies to the landowners to increase the supply of forestry. But forestry was moved out to land that was unsuitable for agricultural crops because the need to produce homegrown food increased.
The 1950s Forestry Commission’s activities were quite successful. By the end of the decade the Commission had planted over 1 million acres and over 1/2 million acres were covered by the ‘dedication scheme’, it was introduced in 1947, was provided afforestation grants to landowners who adopted Forestry Commission plans for afforestation and management.
In 1951, the Forestry Act stated that the Forest Commission has powers to control forestry operations on all lands without consideration of ownership. All tree felling in Great Britain, with specific exceptions, requires the permission of the Forestry Authority first. Permission to fell trees is granted by license or through an approved plan of operations. Felled trees must be replaced. This can maintain the amount of tree supply, and provide enough stock for the future.
Changes in UK policy
In the recent times, the UK policy has changed. It was emphasized on the environmental aspect and encouraging afforestation.
Timber production increased rapidly in the 1960s. The previous unpalantable land was used for planting because of the improvement in technology. This was also favor to the production of forestry because the land could be used for planting increased, and forestry did no need to compete with the crops for the agricultural land.
In 1972, the Forestry White Paper discussed about the problem of large sum of subsidies being used for planting in the private lands. The rate of return was very low, only one per cent, so encouragement for the private owners to plant as the investment was adapted, by the grants and tax concessions, these could attract many people to invest and encourage afforestation. People welcomed the policy, as reduction in tax was really attractive, they could save a lot and grant aid could guarantee their income. In this way, the Forestry Commission could avoid spend enormous money to buy large area of land to do the planting, and also no need to employ many labours to do the planting, but still the amount of timber could increase steadily because the increased production form the private sector.
The private forestry sector carried out 40 per cent of total planting, the timber related industries and its new markets were well developed and attract mass investments. People began to regard forestry as a business at that time. People could earn money from the forestry business not only because the enormous demand for forestry related products, but also the grant aids and tax inducement from the Government, without these policies, forestry could not developed so well because it was a slow and long term return business, every tree need a very long time to grow. The growth in the forestry sector could create many new jobs. All these could help the development of economy of UK.
However, the wood processing industries affected the nature conservation when they used the home produced wood.
Recreation and tourism began to be emphasized in the recent times. When the living standard were started to increase, people concerned more about the recreation aspect. More and more people liked to spend their time in the national parks and went to visit the forests. Forests provide opportunities for walking, cycling, horse riding, camping, fishing, bird- watching…etc. More than 70 per cent of all adults have visited British forests in the last few years. They make around 350 million day trips from their homes to forests each year. (Forestry Commission) Recreation is an important sector of forestry, as tourism is a main income for the Government. People could enjoy their time with their families and friends. Also they could learn form the nature.
The importance of conservation of the environment began to arouse in the recent times. From the 1970s, conservation of the forestry became the main concern of the Forestry Commission’s planning. When the publics like to spend their time in the forests, when they enjoy their time with the nature, and when they can learn a lot from it, they can realize the importance of the nature and began to think about the protection and conservation of the forestry. The previous forestry policy obviously lack of environmental awareness, receiving heavy criticism from the environmentalists. UK lost most of the ancient woodlands and various kinds of wildlife. The existing woodlands and trees should be protected and properly managed.
The Commission tried to maintain the existing woodlands and restoring the ancient semi- natural woodlands. Forests were identified as important wildlife reserves. The government also tried to maintain the woodland character, and recognized the importance of broadleaves, many broadleaved woodland and conifers were being concerned. Broadleaved woodland supports more species than any other habitat. The relatively higher growth rates of coniferous species, the greater intensity of conifer plantation management and the fragmented nature of broadleaved forests, have meant that conifers provide the bulk amount of UK timber production. Landscape began to be considered. Forestry could enhance the landscape stabilisation. The balances between the woods were productive and aesthetical need to be concerned.
By the 1990s, the Commission was committed the forests should be planted, designed and managed for multipurpose benefits and in ways that are environmentally sustainable. It included diversifying plantation forests, the new, native woods, restoring the ancient semi-natural forests, the removal of forest to restore open semi- natural habitats. The demands of commercial production, recreation and conservation were carefully balanced. Social, environmental and economic values were integrated into forest planning. Centre of Excellence awards for private owners encouraged multi-purpose management, and the Woodland Grant Scheme offered bigger grants if public access were a key objective.
All the above policy was carried out quite successfully. The total amount of timber increases steadily and rapidly, the timber related industries and business could run, and give advantage to the economy of UK. Also, the forestry can be maintained, and protect the extinction of various species, the forests are the home of the wildlife, the plantation can conserve the natural environment. And felling trees need to apply for the permission, this can prevent people fell trees for non sustainable purpose.
Compare to the early twentieth century, nowadays policy are much better and more sustainable. In the past, the main concern of the Forestry Commission was to increase the amount of timber production, not only for business, but especially provided material for the warfares. At that period, the importance of conservation and protection of the environment were neglected. The ignorance led to the lost of the natural ancient woodlands. Although they could not be restored, but the Commission tried to protect and recover as best as it can. The forests can provide recreational and leisure places for the public.
However, there are still a lot can be done. UK forests should be managed to achieve a wide range of ecological, social and economic benefits and to minimise impacts on biodiversity and soils. UK forests must be managed well to enhance the contribution for biodiversity conservation.
Afforestation should be restricted to protect important open habitats and waters sensitive to acidification. Greater protection should be provided to the UK’s ancient woodland. New planting should encourage the expansion of broadleaf instead of coniferous.
The Forestry Commission should cooperate with other environmental organisations, both governmental and non-governmental groups, they can exchange the opinions and discuss the problems and strategies. They should receive opinions from the public, so that they can have more comprehensive considerations. The UK government should have more connections to the global markets and world environmental groups. This can keep they can keep up to date, and interdependent and Interco operate.
The returns for the investment in forestry are lower than other sectors. The main support for the forest related business and industries are grand and tax concessions, despite the monetary support, the government can try to enlarge the market and provide non monetary support and help for them, this can encourage investment in the forestry sector. Imports should be reduced and increases the native productions.
Over-consumption is the main problem against sustainable development. The government should encourage people to use less wood and wood-based products, for example paper. Try to suggest the public to use substitutes, or recycle products.
Education is important. Government should provide information for the public to understand the importance of protecting the forests. This can be carried out in schools or through advertising to enhance the public’s awareness.
For a sustainable forestry policy, there are still a lot the government need to solve out, there are still various types of obstacles, for example, people unwilling to change their habit of using timber products, or the conflicts between a sustainable policy and the economic considerations. There is still a long way to go for the sustainable future.