date and time icon Wed, 08 Nov 2023

Experts call for action to prevent 'ecosystem collapse’ of UK forests

A team of experts from across Europe – including Dr Dan Ridley-Ellis from Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Conservation and Restoration Science – has identified a list of critical threats faced by UK forests.

They have produced a list of 15 overlooked and emerging issues that are likely to have a significant impact over the next 50 years if action is not taken.

This study is the first ‘horizon scanning’ exercise – a technique to identify relatively unknown threats, opportunities, and new trends – of UK forests. The aim is to help researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and society in general, better prepare for the future and address threats before they become critical.

A panel comprising 42 experts, who represented a range of professions, organisations, and geographies, reached out to their networks to seek over-looked and emerging issues that were likely to affect UK forests over the next half a century.Dr Dan Ridley-Ellis

The resulting 180-item longlist was then whittled down through a series of review exercises to a shortlist of 30 issues. In a final workshop, panellists identified the top 15 issues they believed were likely to have the greatest impact on UK forests in the next 50 years.

These findings have been published today in the journal Forestry.

Dr Ridley-Ellis said:

“This exercise helps to highlight the less well-known challenges and opportunities related to forests and timber. I encourage researchers from all fields to read it and consider where their expertise can help.”

Dr Eleanor Tew, first author, visiting researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and Head of Forest Planning at Forestry England said:

“The next 50 years will bring huge changes to UK forests: the threats they face, the way that we manage them, and the benefits they deliver to society.

“These results are both concerning and exciting. However, we should be optimistic, remembering that these are possibilities and not certainties.

“Crucially, we have time to act ‒ by responding to the threats and embracing the opportunities, future generations can have resilient forests with all the benefits they offer.”

Among the 15 issues identified in the final report, the 14th – namely the unpredictable supply and demand dynamics in global wood product markets – is the subject of two ongoing research projects at ENU.

Dr Ridley-Ellis will be presenting findings from one of them, the use of hardwoods from England’s woodlands for construction, at the Confor UK Policy Conference on 7th December.

The study also follows two industry award wins, recognising Edinburgh Napier’s work around timber construction.

The School of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment won the Green Skills Award for Timber TED at the Accelerate to Zero Awards on 1 November in Glasgow, recognition for demonstrating a leading approach to the growth of new skills needed to help accelerate the zero-carbon built environment.

While Professor Robert Hairstans was awarded the BE-ST (Built Environment – Smarter Transformation) Beacon Award for the difference he is making to accelerating net zero construction in partnership with others.

Dr Ridley Ellis