Towards the end of last year I received in the post a little bonus Christmas reading: the seductively-titled Forestry Facts & Figures 2021 booklet, full of woody stats. It summarises woodland cover across the UK, timber and wood products, imports and exports, employment in forestry industries, woodland visits and the environment.
WftT supporters may be interested to know that 3,229,000 hectares of UK land were covered by woodland or plantations, about half in each category. That’s hard to visualise, but it works out at around 13.3% of the total land area, well below the European average of 46% and about a third of the coverage in France, Germany and Italy, for example. Thirteen thousand hectares of new trees were planted last year – about a third of the levels in the 1990s, but consistent with the last few years of relatively low levels. The government, we are told, plans to dramatically raise that rate of annual planting, although there are huge obstacles to that: the low capacity of Britain’s tree nurseries; concerns over imported seedlings after the Ash Chalara fungus scandal and questions over the availability of land for planting.
Softwood (that’s basically non-native conifers like Sitka spruce) dominates timber production: 10,000,000 green (i.e. before drying) tonnes compared to 830,000 tonnes of hardwood. Most of that felled timber goes in roughly equal measures to making three products: sawn wood (for construction and pallets), wood based panels (chipboard, MDF) and paper.
The UK is heavily reliant on imports: $10.6 billion worth of imports; $2.2 billion of exports – and we are the 2nd largest importer of forest products in the world. In contrast, the industry as a whole employs a very modest 30,000 people. However, the social value of woods and forests is very high – apparently 69% of the population visited woodland last year – although the socio-economic/ethnic backgrounds of those visitors and their ability to access woods is not addressed in these summary figures. Those who do not visit woods are, perhaps, more significant a group to study than those who do and who fill in the survey.
I am particularly struck by the last page of stats – the only page devoted to ‘nature’ and habitats. Woodland bird populations, it shows, have drastically declined – by 10% in the last five years and by more than 50% since the 1970s. The UK’s woods are in poor shape by that admittedly niche measure. In contrast, the stats show that woodlands and forestry account for something like 70% of the UK’s ‘Carbon stock’ – and by far the majority of that is stored in woodland soils, with 23% in living trees and 8% in deadwood and litter.
Food for thought….
The booklet can be found at forestresearch.gov.uk/statistics