For hundreds of thousands of years, wood has been an invaluable natural resource in our survival and development. But now with more than seven billion of us populating our planet, and a recent history of irresponsible deforestation, the need for a more sustainable approach has never been more critical.
By implementing environmentally responsible foresting practices, conservationists, politicians and foresters throughout the UK have begun to develop more renewable practices.
Back From the Brink
The UK is currently the least forested region in Europe, with coverage of about 11.8%. However, this figure is a significant improvement on where we stood at the beginning of the 20th century, when the nation’s woodland coverage had been reduced to around 5%.
It was the environmental initiatives introduced in the 1940s which helped to reverse the worrying deforestation trend, and it is today estimated that UK forests have been returned to the same levels of those that existed in 1750, thanks to the continued efforts of nationwide ongoing projects.
Woodland Trust Scheme
The Woodland Trust is the UK’s largest forest conservation organisation. After decades of initiatives to save our woodlands, the Trust received an enormous boost this year with an award of £1.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The grant will contribute to a 5-year scheme to revive the populations of some 250 threatened indigenous woodland species by replacing more than 52,000 hectares of conifer plantations with native forest. Working with more than 1000 landowners across the nation, the Trust will help plantation owners harvest the conifers (which are now reaching maturity after several decades), and ensure they are replaced with natural woodland rather than a new plantation crop.
By felling the crop according to specific environmental guidelines, the scheme will let much-needed light in through the forest canopy, aiding many species that have been threatened by the artificial woods.
The principle of ‘enhancement despite utilization’ is a cornerstone in the UK forest conservation movement. Because of the necessity to continue using wood, it is important to do so in such a way that allows forests to continue to expand despite our selective harvests. Groups like the Abriachan Forest Trust and Zetland Estates have shown, this can be done quite effectively, while also lessening our dependence on foreign timber.
Imported lumber creates a variety of environmental problems, ranging from exploitation of indigenous peoples to high CO2 emissions associated with transportation. So local timber is far more sustainable than the alternative.
Motivated by the conviction that sustainable foresting should bring forestry out of the woodlands, crops specifically grown for harvest are being planted in already-cleared agricultural regions. And while this solution is not without its flaws, it is far more sustainable and ecologically responsible than any other strategy yet conceived.
As conservationists continually work to save the world’s natural forests, they face countless obstacles. In the UK, one significant issue arises from the fact that more than 30% of all woodland is privately owned and legally unprotected. Clearly, woodland conservation is not something that can be accomplished by government efforts alone.
If we hope to preserve our woods for future generations, it will take a collaborative effort from landowners, consumers, conservationists, foresters, environmentalists, and local businesses. We certainly have a long way to go, but the efforts of the past 7 decades have proven that we can and are slowly are overcoming the threat of deforestation.
Sydney Michaels is a recent geography graduate who writes for Distinctive Doors.