Woodlands in Britain
Once Britain was covered in forests. We can restore many of these forests, developing a diversity of trees, broadleaved species as well as fast growing commercial conifers. Now only 10% of Britain is covered with forest. 2/3 are conifer forests for commercial wood pulp, 80% are less than 35 years old. This unbalance between conifers and native broadleaf varieties is damaging to the remaining vegetation wildlife. We can set planting targets of, for example 33,000 ha per year, with a greater diversity of broadleaved native trees.
About 90% of the UK's natural forest has been cleared. In the last 35 years, half of its ancient deciduous woodlands has gone and between 1947 and 1979, 2600 miles of hedgerows were removed each year. This increased to 4000 miles a year and later further increased to 15,000 miles a year by the end of the 1980s. Half of Britain's deciduous woodlands are unmanaged and deteriorating yet Britain imports 90% of its timber.
Tax incentives amounting to £90 million (US$144 million) a year were spent up until 1988 to encourage the planting of conifer plantations in Britain. Thousands of acres of countryside were covered by these trees. Eventually they will be harvested and used for paper. Although these trees are economically desirable, monocultures (the cultivation of a single species) are not ecologically sound and not the best way to use the taxpayers' money. Conifers produce leaf litter, which creates an acid soil. This soil supports very few other species of plants and, with acid rain, contributes to the acidification of freshwater.
Scotland was home to some of the world's oldest and most beautiful temperate forests. Over the past few years these have either been cut down and replaced by conifer plantation or ravaged by acid rain. Now only 1% of Scotland's native forest remains. Up to 90% of the world's temperate forests have been destroyed and much of what is left is dying. Now only 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) remain. Over-grazing by sheep (for meat and wool) and deer (for recreational hunting) prevents young trees from becoming established.
What you can do
Guard your local trees. If there are new developments in your area, check with the Council's Tree Officer to make sure that threatened trees are covered by Tree Preservation Orders. If you find trees have been destroyed by builders, or you suspect this might happen, complain to the Council, local Press and your M.P. You will thus be helping to ensure that in future new developments are designed around trees. There should be enforced penalties for cutting down or damaging any trees. They should increase with the age of the tree.
Purchase wood and forest products from well managed forests, certified by independent forest certification systems such as the Forest Stewardship Council.