Children measuring the river

Pre-historic and historic clearance of our woodland led us to a low point at the beginning of the twentieth century when woodland was only 5 percent of Britain, and falling. It is now nearly 12 percent and rising. In Wales, woodlands account for 15 percent of the land cover. However, around 40 percent of that woodland is under-managed or not in any management at all.

The importance of sustainability

Through creating this major new asset, we need to be sure of handing on to future generations something better than we inherited. Sustainability is at the heart of our forestry policies and practices so that we can realise the full potential of our woodlands as economic, environmental and social resources.

Where improvement is required, it is our responsibility to guide and encourage the changes, and to fit them into the international commitments that we have made on sustainable forest management.

What does sustainable forest management mean?

Now known as Forest Europe, Ministers with responsibility for forestry agreed a definition of sustainable forest management in 1993 that continues to underpin our forest policy and practice today. It is:

‘… the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems…’

Implications for the future

Sustainable forest management recognises the importance of linking the economic, environmental and social values of forests. At its simplest, it means making sure that today’s forests are still here for our children and grandchildren. But we also have to be careful of the quality of the inheritance that we pass on to future generations. They will rightly expect that their forests and woodlands will offer the same benefits and opportunities (or if possible more) that we enjoy.

It is the role of Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government, the Forestry Commission in England and Scotland and our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Forest Service to try to fulfil those expectations. Follow the links to find out more.

Sustainability in Wales

Priorities for the Welsh forest resource are to:

  • Have more woodland managed sustainably
  • Increase the net area of woodland in Wales
  • Improve the structural diversity of our woodlands (less clearfelling)
  • Increase the tree species diversity of more of our woodlands
  • Improve the condition of native woodland and increase its extent
  • Improve the resilience to climate change of all our woodland
  • Ensure that the future potential timber production of our woodland resource at a national level will be maintained or increased

Achieving sustainability in Wales

Natural Resources Wales are committed to achieving these goals in our management of the Welsh Government Woodland Estate, through the guidance we provide, our regulatory functions and in our work with partners. We understand that multiple-use forestry should be promoted to achieve an appropriate balance between the various needs of society. This means that:

  • Silvicultural practices emulating nature should be encouraged. Practices contrary to sustainable management should be actively discouraged
  • In the management of existing forests and the development of new forests, the chosen tree species should be well suited to local conditions and be capable of tolerating climatic and other stresses, such as insects and diseases, and potential climate changes, throughout the growing period
  • Afforestation should be conducted in a manner that does not negatively affect ecologically interesting or noteworthy sites and landscapes
  • Native species and local provenance should be preferred where appropriate

Our role in achieving sustainability

We will continue to work with the Welsh Government to bring more woodland into woodland grant schemes and to look for ways to further develop Glastir. It is important that we attract more farm woodlands into management, and for woodlands that are managed, it is important to generate income streams beyond timber, such as game and woodland recreational activities. We need to promote the opportunities and support mechanisms for the management of smaller, lower-value woodlands and for increasing the supply of woodfuel products, particularly for on-farm benefit.

Within our remit we will look for ways to better integrate policy development and our programme delivery with other land uses such as water management, agriculture and renewable energy. A key measure is to improve the awareness, training and education in woodland management for the wider agricultural sector. This will be undertaken in partnership with others to realise the economic potential of this woodland resource and bring more of our native woodland into management.

How we can help

Follow the links to find out how Natural Resources Wales can help you with forestry regulation and what financial support may be available. You can also access sources of further guidance on woodland management.

Other sources of information

The legal and best forestry practice requirements are set out in the UK Forestry Standard, and a large range of guidance documents are available from the Forestry Commission's publications catalogue. You may like to consider if your woodland is suitable for Certification, opening doors to assure future customers that products from your wood are from a sustainable source. You can find out more by following the links.

There are a number of organisations who provide advice, financial and practical support to help you bring your woodland into management and offer expertise on many aspects of silviculture. Coed Cymru offer free help and advice on woodland management. ConFor and the Wales Forest Business Partnership websites can help inspire you with an open door to support, reports and guidance. Find out more by following the links.

If you would like to contact the Sustainable Forest Management Team in Natural Resources Wales you can send your enquiry to

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