The total area of woodland in the UK is 3.17 million hectares representing 13% of the total land area. The woodlands can be divided into three distinct categories, plantations, semi-natural woodlands, and mixed woodlands.
The UK’s plantation forests are predominantly made up of non-native coniferous species, often planted on economically marginal agricultural land and in some cases, on previously cleared ancient semi-natural woodlands (ASNW).
The commercial base of the UK forest industry relies heavily on 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 UK’s semi-natural woodlands are made up of broadleaved trees with areas of scots pine, yew and juniper. Native woodlands are of particular value to UK biodiversity, representing a range of UK BAP habitats supporting many important species. The creation of native woodlands has been the focus of woodland expansion schemes in recent years.
Timber production and recreation are important uses of semi-natural woodland, but careful management is required to avoid conflict with wildlife interests. Ancient semi-natural woodlands are especially valuable as some are remnants of the original post-glacial forest.
Small mixed woodlands comprised of both native and non-native tree species are found on many farms and private estates across the UK. These woodlands have been created to offer shelter for livestock or to enhance the landscape. They represent an important but often untapped timber resource.
Wood pasture and urban trees also represent a valuable contribution to the UK’s forest resource.
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). Approximately 1.5 million hectares of the UK woodland area is certified to the UKWAS standard, representing 44% of the total woodland area.
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.
Forest Ownership in the UK
73% 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 27% of woodlands is owned publicly, the bulk of it managed by the Forestry Commission and its devolved bodies, (e.g Forestry Commission England and National Resources Wales). Some woodlands are owned and managed by other public agencies, including local authorities.