Globally, it is estimated that of the 3.9 billion hectares of the world’s forests, 86% are publicly owned. This includes approximately 200 million hectares of tribal and community-managed forests.
At a regional level also, a large percentage of forests are publicly owned including in
- Africa (98%),
- Asia (95%),
- Europe (incl. Russia) (90%),
- Oceania (76%),
- North and Central America (70%) and
- South America (82%).
Within regions too, high proportions of forests and forests lands are publicly owned. In Russia, 100% of forests are publicly owned, with public ownership dominating in the Confederation of Independent States (CIS) and several other former Communist countries.
In Western Europe, the proportions of forest lands that are publicly-owned are in example 54% in Germany, 77% in Greece, 66% in Ireland, and 68% in Switzerland.
Only in the USA is more forest land under private ownership with non-industrial and industrial owners together accounting for 57% of forest ownership.
While all forests play a key role in providing ecosystem services, contributing to the global sustainable development objective and combating climate change, it is generally accepted that private forests provide proportionally more market commodities than their publicly-owned and managed counterparts.
In developing countries, whole communities depend upon sustainable forest management for their livelihoods.
In developed countries, family forest owners have been managing forests as part of a tradition handed down for several generations.
They usually have a strong attachment to the land and a commitment to the continued and sustainable management of their forests and provide the raw materials to the forest industry sector, which in Europe is estimated to contribute about 9% of European GDP.
While many family forest owners also rely on their forest holdings to supplement their livelihoods and family incomes, the financial benefits accruing to small family forest owners are relatively minor, given the relative small size of their forest-land holdings.
Equally, without the economies of scale presented by large forest holdings and plantations, it is difficult for small family and community-owned forests to maintain a competitive advantage.
All these features increase the imperative for demonstrating, through a process of certification, that their forests are being managed with respect for the highest ecological, economic and social standards.
Yet, for small and fragmented forest-holdings, certification can be both costly and resource and time-consuming.
Forest Ownership in the UK
Around two-thirds of the UK's woodland resource is privately owned – by individuals, family trusts, charitable trusts or companies. It is estimated that there are about 40 000 private woodland owners who own areas greater than 5 hectares.
Typically, woodlands owned by private and family interests are a part of mixed estates or are on farms. There are many thousands of small farm woodlands, but very few owners with more than 1000 hectares of woodland. Management of woodlands for game is an important objective on many estates with woodland and on some farms. Typically timber production is considered important in the larger family estates and company owned forests. An increasing number of woods are managed specifically for recreational and conservation purposes by charitable trusts and private owners.
The remaining one-third of woodlands is owned publicly, the bulk of it managed by the Forestry Commission (FC) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland (DARD). In the main, these are 'new' forests established in the 20th century in areas of low agricultural value, particularly in the uplands, using mainly conifer species. Some woodlands are owned and managed by other public agencies, including local authorities.
PEFC Certification & Small Forest Owners
PEFC Sustainable Forestry and Chain of Custody certification are ideally suited to the needs of small family and community-owned and managed forests.
With about one quarter of the world's forests managed by families and communities, resources and cost related to certification are a major obstacle to expanding forest certification to the more than 90% of forest area currently uncertified.
PEFC has developed robust mechanisms to ensure the participation and inclusion of family and community owned forests in forest certification.
PEFC has paid special attention to their needs and their specific cost and operating structures to make forest certification accessible to all. In order to best respond to cost challenges, PEFC has implemented a series of certification mechanisms, such as Regional Certification and Group Certification.