Forests area: 303 million ha
Forest owners: > 750,000
Companies (CoC): 18,800
The UK has no natural forest, but has about 650 000 hectares of semi-natural woodland of which 288 000 hectares are classed as ancient and semi-natural (1.2% of land area). This is mainly broadleaved, but includes the native pine forests of highland Scotland.
Semi-natural woodlands are especially significant for wildlife conservation because they support a high proportion of rare and threatened species. They are also important for landscape and cultural heritage.
Timber production and recreation are important uses of semi-natural woodland, but careful management is required to avoid conflict with special wildlife interests. Ancient semi-natural woodlands are especially valuable as some are remnants of the original post-glacial forest. Conservation of natural habitat is of prime importance.
The commercial base of the UK forest industry relies heavily on introduced tree species, particularly Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) from North America. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is the only native conifer of economic significance. There are about a dozen conifer species in common forestry use.
The Forestry Commission serves as the department of Forestry for the Westminster Government and within the devolved administrations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and is responsible for forest legislation and policy in Great Britain. The UK Forestry Standard and the Forestry Act 1967 form the basis for legal and sustainable management.
The national forest certification standard for the United Kingdom is the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS)
Extensive programmes of woodland diversification are under way to improve landscape impacts, continuity of habitats, biodiversity provision, continuity of timber supply and opportunities for recreation. Restoration of semi-natural woodlands and creation of new native woodland habitats are also policy priorities, along with the creation of new woodlands on urban fringes. Valuable habitats, such as ancient woodland remnants, are protected as part of plantation management.
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 five 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 1,000 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 and its devoted bodies, (e.g Forestry Commission England and National Resources Wales). 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.