Environmental Change Preparedness

Hemery Gabriel 125

Hemery Gabriel 125Environmental Change Preparedness

prɪˈpɛːrɪdnəs/   a state of readiness, especially for war



 The COP21 talks at Paris are behind us, and now the ambitious targets must be implemented. Meanwhile, we are living with the ‘future climate’ (average global temperatures have risen by 1°C), pest and pathogen immigration increasingly threatens, and winter storms impact with ever-greater frequency and severity. Dr Gabriel Hemery FICFor, Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation, asks if UK forestry is prepared and what is the role of professional foresters in this crisis.

The United Kingdom Forestry Standard (UKFS) contains 17 ‘factors’ related to adaptation, under the themes of forest planning, management, tree species selection, landscape ecology, and protection of the environment. All of these, of course, refer to the physical resource yet it is the human dimension that is fundamental. It is what we as foresters believe, what we understand, what we do and our aspirations that will most impact the future of the UK’s trees and woodlands. Are we as professionals really ‒ and I mean really ‒ prepared for the impacts from environmental change?

Outside the sector, in my experience many people are surprised by the statistic that so much (72%) of the UK’s forests are owned and managed by private individuals and organisations. When this fact is absorbed, the complexity of any delivering any big and bold actions starts to sink in. To support resilience to environmental change ‒ my favoured definition is to ‘bounce back better’ ‒ we must work therefore with the private sector. Yet little was known about the awareness of woodland owners and managers, and forestry professionals, concerning the importance of woodland resilience to environmental change. Many key questions concerning adaptation to environmental change were unasked and unanswered, meaning that accordance with the guidelines of the UKFS has been difficult to measure, both in terms of current actions and future aspirations.


Information was gathered to address these questions under the British Woodland Survey during the summer of 2015. It attracted responses from 1509 people including: 827 private woodland owners; 182 forestry agents; 235 other tree and forestry professionals (e.g. NGO staff, forestry contractors); and 19 tree nursery businesses. Responses were received from across the whole of the UK: most private woodland owners were located in England, while agents proportionally represented more properties than owners in Scotland and Wales. The respondents represented an area of woodland, managed by owners or their agents, covering 247,891 ha; equal to 11% of all privately-owned woodlands in the UK.

The full report of the survey was published in December and can be downloaded for free (www.sylva.org.uk/forestryhorizons/bws2015). The headline finding was that overall, implementation of the UKFS good forestry practice requirements for climate change adaptation is currently low. Of great concern, among woodland owners only 45% believed that climate change would impact the UK’s forests in future (55% were uncertain or answered No). Among forestry professionals 70% believed the climate change would impact our forests; what does this tell us? I believe it suggests that as professionals were are generally well-informed and able to take a lead in preparing the sector for change, but at the same time we have a massive burden of responsibility, of which we must all accept a share. We need to support woodland owners and manager in any way that we can, and improve our leadership in communicating the challenges of environmental change.


Responses to the question: Do you believe that the climate is changing to such an extent that it will substantially affect forests in the UK?

Professionals and agents were generally more aware and active in implementing adaptation measures than owners. Before we allow ourselves to feel superior, accordance with some areas of the UKFS guidelines for adaptation were shockingly poor among forestry professionals. Currently less than half of agents responding had taken the simple measure of reviewing climate change projections for a specific region. Only half of professionals addressed biosecurity by providing cleaning and disinfecting materials for those working in a woodland.

So, what next? The survey has provided a voice for the sector which can be used as evidence alongside the urgent call for action agreed with the 2015 Climate Change Accord. Individuals representing organisations coalesced in the Accord will be meeting to work on an Action Plan for the sector. Some in the scientific community are keen to conduct follow-up social research to start to understand better some of the main findings from the report. I am sure that the ICF will continue to contribute to these and related activities but is there more it could do? Perhaps it could provide a platform or portal for Resilience as a central theme to ensure that professionals can provide the leadership so urgently required.

Preparing for environmental change may not be so different, as it may first appear, to preparing for war. Impacts will be profound: at all scales and across all elements of the forestry sector. We must accept that risks are inherent from anticipating and planning for environmental change (I would single out species diversity in our commercial plantations and timber diversity at our sawmills) but that such risks are much lower than assuming change will not come. By then it will be too late.

Dr Gabriel Hemery FICFor is a forest scientist and is Chief Executive of the Sylva Foundation. He was lead author of: Awareness, action and aspiration among Britain’s forestry community relating to environmental change: Report of the British Woodlands Survey 2015. www.sylva.org.uk/forestryhorizons/bws2015

Latest news