How we create new and resilient woodlands
Wales needs more woodlands, of all types and sizes.
In this blog, Miriam Jones-Walters talks through how NRW plans new woodlands which look to the future in a way that benefits the environment, biodiversity, the local community and the economy.
Miriam is an NRW Specialist Advisor for Land Stewardship and she leads on creating new woodlands to expand the Welsh Government Woodland Estate. She works with NRW colleagues to find parcels of land that can be planted with new woodlands.
When we are creating new woodlands, there are lots of different things we need to consider, not least that we are facing a rapidly changing climate; and that brings with it increasing numbers of pests and diseases.
How do we make sure new woodlands are resilient to these threats?
Firstly, we need to make sure that a new woodland won’t have a negative impact on the local environment and that woodland creation is suitable for that parcel of land.
We weigh up a lot of different factors. For example, we make sure that there are no important habitats that would be harmed by woodland creation. A new woodland will also be designed to secure a range of future benefits, such as such as connecting habitats in the landscape, providing outdoor spaces for people to visit, timber production and the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.
Once we have identified a suitable site, the tree species we choose are critical to future success. Like all living things, trees have evolved to survive in their environments, and different trees have adapted to suit different conditions. Some can cope with very cold, wet, windy sites and some prefer drier more sheltered places.
If trees can’t cope with future conditions - for example if the site gets too dry for some species - then they will be stressed and vulnerable to pests and diseases.
We need to understand the conditions that our trees will experience now in the new woodland, as well as what they might experience as the climate changes. This means that we need to think a long way into the future. For example, a site that is cold and wet now, might be warmer and drier in 50 years’ time, when some species of trees will still be relative youngsters.
It’s important that we choose a diverse range of tree species. If we don’t, we could lose a large proportion of our woods to a new threat in the future. A diverse woodland is more resilient to new threats, because if the threat takes out some species of trees, the woodland will be able to regenerate using other species.
We also think about where the trees will come from. If a site is surrounded by trees that are well suited to the conditions, we might allow the new woodland to develop naturally from seeds from those existing trees.
Alternatively, we’ll plant seedlings that don’t come from the immediate area, but we’re careful to source seedlings from nurseries that follow biosecurity protocols to minimise the risk of planting trees that may host a new pest or disease.
How do we do this?
We go out and assess the site. For example, we look at the soils and the microclimate, and we use tools that can help us understand the specific site conditions and predict how these might change. We can then match these conditions to suitable species for planting, following the UK Forestry Standard and NRW’s guidance. We can also look at the trees in the surroundings to see what species might grow well.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the future climate, and the challenges our woodlands will have to face, but we know that change it is happening. It’s important that we consider these things now and do whatever we can to ensure the woodlands we create now will be there for generations to come.