AFTER a winter that brought gales and floods to much of the UK – and perhaps a harbinger of a waterlogged future – forestry experts from America, Europe and Britain are to gather in the Lake District to champion how multi-species woodlands can save us from a global deluge.
“There’s no doubt that forests full of a vibrant mix of tree species of all ages – including saplings right through to mature timber-ready specimens and those naturally dying – are more resilient to climate change, less prone to disease, more resistant to high winds and better able to reduce flooding,” said Ted Wilson, Director of Penrith-based Silviculture Research International.
Organiser of a three-day international conference in June in the heart of the Lake District – with special sessions beneath forest canopies in Thirlmere Forest and Wythop Wood – Mr Wilson’s message to the world is as straight as a locally-grown Douglas fir trunk used to make ship masts.
“We need less forests made up of single species and more mixed woodlands full of different species and ages – what we now call continuous cover forests – to help deal with the impact of climate change which we can see happening all around us,” he said.
The Continuous Cover Forestry Group (CCFG) conference – Delivering Sustainable and Resilient Woodlands in Britain – will include a lecture from Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall Head Forester Geraint Richards.
The Prince advocates the use of continuous cover forestry across his many estate lands.
CCFG was established in 1991 by a small group of far-sighted foresters who believed that the UK and the rest of the world need a lot more continuous cover forestry – where an undulating canopy of different tree species always shades and protects the ground.
This was how much of the temperate regions of the world looked before the impact of large-scale deforestation and land clearance for agriculture.
Superb examples exist on several estates in Britain and in particular the Lake District which Mr Wilson describes as the “crucible of sustainable forestry”.
“There have always been radical thinkers in British forestry and at last more and more organisations, including the Woodland Trust, National Trust and Forestry Commission as well as many companies and private landowners are embracing continuous cover forestry,” he said.
“But we would like to see more, as we need to start treating woodlands as whole living organisms if we are to help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.”
He cited well-establish diverse forests around Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria which not only stabilise the slopes but which slow the rate of rainwater run-off and act as filters that reduce the risk of damaging chemicals seeping into streams and waterways.
“These forests contain a wide range of native species such as oak and birch, and planted woodlands of larch, Douglas fir and spruce and they look natural and very diverse. However, they are largely the legacy of progressive foresters’ planting efforts in the late 19th century,” explained Mr Wilson.
“They produce valuable timber, such as Douglas fir trunks for ship masts and structural beams in modern buildings, whilst offering sanctuary for wildlife and recreational opportunities for the millions of people who visit the Lake District every year.
“So valuable are some of these timbers that there is a significant export market to Germany where wood is an important element of building design.
“Market-led solutions with a commercial edge have a major part to play in sustainable forestry, boosting the economy and creating jobs in the forest and linked supply chains.”
The response from leading foresters around the world to the conference call was “amazing”, said Mr Wilson.
“It will be the biggest gathering of experts committed to sustainable forestry for years and the collective message about continuous cover forests is timely as our country and planet are experiencing more and more examples of extreme weather caused by climate change.”
The conference is being held in the Braithwaite Institute near Keswick and in woodlands across the north and west of the Lake District National Park from 3-5 June 2014.