Extreme weather requires urgent action to adapt forests to climate change

CLA Forestry and Woodlands Adviser Graham Clark explores the work of the new Forestry and Climate Change Partnership
Ancient oak woodland path by River Usk Wales RD.JPG

Whether it is this week’s heatwave or Storm Arwen which hit the north of England badly last winter, incidents of extreme weather in the UK are on the rise.

Climate scientists have said that this week’s record summer temperatures will become more common in the future. Such hot periods may even become the norm in our changing climate. Over time, this has consequences for the health and longevity of our woodlands and forests unless we consider the need to adapt our woodland management practices.

Extreme weather puts living things – including our woodlands and forests – under great stress. Just like people, trees are individuals. They vary in age, health and in their tolerance to environmental change. As we have seen with Covid-19, some individuals are more resilient than others, with some entering periods of stress weakened by pre-existing conditions. Repeated periods of stress, say from drought, can make some individuals more vulnerable to attack by other tree pests and diseases, some of which are more common in a changed climate.

Implications like these illustrate the importance of the work of The Forestry and Climate Change Partnership (FCCP). This recently relaunched cross sector partnership of forestry, conservation and government organisations, including the CLA, Confor, Forestry Commission and others, has come together to reaffirm collective commitment to work together to promote the importance of adapting trees, woods and forests to climate change.

Climate change and the associated environmental impacts like drought, flooding, fire, pests and pathogens present serious threats to the health of our trees, woods and forests. There is an urgent need to improve the resilience of both newly created and existing woodland to climate change. This requires significant change to widely accepted and practised systems of woodland and land management. Greater awareness is needed for the importance of adopting a broader range of species, diversity of genetics, age and stand structure, and improved connectivity in the landscape.

The FCCP is working to communicate the case for adaptation, to provide training and education, inform research priorities and contribute to policy development. The partnership recently published the Forestry and Climate Change Adaptation Accord setting out a collective vision that Britain’s trees, woods and forests are resilient to climate change and therefore able to continue to meet their full potential to provide environmental, social and economic benefits to us all. The Accord is available on the new FCCP website here.

The Forestry and Climate Change Partnership represents an unusual level of collaboration and a powerful agreement to work together to make change happen. Our trees, woods and forests are faced with unprecedented rates of climate change and increased environmental threats, pests and pathogens. Only by working together, and with the support of individual woodland owners and professionals, will we be able to meet these challenges and ensure our trees continue to provide the many benefits they offer.

Key contact:

Graham Clark
Graham Clark Senior Land Use Policy Adviser, London