Many tens of millions of pounds in timber, fuel, amenity value and ‘public goods’ could currently be locked up in the UK’s unmanaged woods and forests, suggests a new report from the Royal Forestry Society (RFS).
Well managed woodland brings additional income for owners and multiple benefits for communities
Unmanaged and undermanaged woodland are a lost potential resource for owners and communities alike
With only around 59% of woods in England and 57% in Wales under active management, total lost value of timber and woodfuel sales is estimated at over £20m a year, with Defra calculations  indicating additional lost environmental and social benefits of up to £80m.
RFS Chief Executive Simon Lloyd admits that while bringing all unutilised woodland into production would be impracticable, far more could be done relatively easily to realise both financial returns and social or environmental benefits from currently unutilised woods.
“Our new report, Bringing Woodland into Management: The Missed Opportunities, demonstrates that increasing levels of managed woodland in England and Wales to 75% is an achievable goal, and would provide an extra £20m income annually to owners in terms of timber and woodfuel sales alone,”
“This relatively small increase would actually signify more than 250,000 extra hectares being managed, an area larger than the Lake District National Park. With it would come jobs and benefits to the local economy – there’s no downside.”
He says that while much of the recent focus has been on planting new woods and trees, this report identifies England and Wales already have a huge economic opportunity ready and waiting, as well as a chance to increase carbon capture and storage and improve biodiversity. Farms in particular are potentially losing out on up to £6m by not managing their viable woodland.
“Recent increases in woodfuel and timber prices have made it financially viable for more woods to be actively managed. Better use of our home-grown wood would help reduce a reliance on imports which currently account for around 80% of all timber used in the UK. For instance, we currently import more than 32,000 tonnes of firewood a year, mainly from the EU, much of which could be sustainable produced in the UK.”
The Government’s Tree Health Resilience Policy, published in 2018, recognises managed woodland is healthier than neglected woodland, better able to survive the challenges of Climate Change, pests and diseases. Unmanaged woodland is more likely to fail.
“Occasionally a policy of non-intervention is appropriate to meet specific management objectives, but in most cases woodland needs to be sustainably managed if it is to flourish and to be economically viable for owners to continue to maintain and plant them.
“Once trees reach a certain maturity their ability to lock up additional extra carbon reduces. If they are harvested, that encourages younger trees which are already growing as part of the woodland cover to flourish. That results in an overall increase in the carbon storage values. Responsible management plans within woodlands should ensure a sustainable renewal of trees either from natural regeneration or from underplanting.
“Given that so much of a woodland’s benefits are in public services – Natural Capital – we believe land use grants post-Brexit should reflect these to encourage owners to manage responsibly even when they are not looking for a return from timber.”
The report also calls for more support and training for woodland owners, for support the for co-operatives to help small woodland owners benefit from active management and for improvements in the way management of woodland is measured and tracked.
 Defra’s Tree Health Resilience Strategy estimates only 20% of the value of forests and trees lies in forestry and primary wood processing with 80% in environmental and social benefits