Combating Climate Change: A Role for UK Forests

Geographical coverage

Geographical scale of the assessment National
Country or countries covered United Kingdom
Any other necessary information or explanation for identifying the location of the assessment, including site or region name

Conceptual framework, methodology and scope

Assessment objectives

The aim of this report is to provide an expert up-to-date assessment of the current and potential contribution of trees and forests across the UK, both in the private and government sectors, to addressing climate change. Specific objectives are to:

• review and synthesise existing knowledge on the impacts of climate change on UK trees, woodlands and forests;

• provide a baseline of the current potential of different mitigation and adaptation actions;

• identify gaps and weaknesses to help determine research priorities for the next five years.

Mandate for the assessment

The independent assessment was commissioned by the Forestry Commission to examine the potential of the UK's trees and woodlands to mitigate and adapt to our changing climate. It forms part of the response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report published in 2007. The IPCC report provided authoritative evidence of how planting and managing woodland, avoiding deforestation, and replacing fossils fuels and carbon-intensive products with wood can make a major contribution to mitigating the effects of climate change. It also examined the impacts of climate change on forests, and the importance of adaptation to make forest ecosystems more resilient. However, the IPCC report was global in scope and it highlighted a need to bring together information at the national level – to assess what climate change means for forests and woodlands in the UK, and to identify the gaps in our knowledge.

Conceptual framework and/or methodology used for the assessment

Other (please specify)

The report drew on scientific concepts relating to wide-ranging science and social science disciplines. Topics included energy and greenhouse gas exchange in the atmosphere, the impacts of climate change on forests, the contribution of forests to absorbing and storing CO2 in woodlands and wood products, and the role of forests in adapting to climate change. A broader analysis, based on sustainable development, socio-economic and institutional perspectives was also included.

URL or copy of conceptual framework developed or adapted

System(s) assessed

  • Forest and woodland
  • Grassland

Species groups assessed

Ecosystem services/functions assessed


  • Timber/fibres
  • Genetic resources
  • Ornamental resources
  • Energy/fuel


  • Air quality
  • Climate regulation
  • Regulation of water flows
  • Regulation of water quality
  • Erosion prevention
  • Pollination
  • Pest and disease control

Supporting Services/Functions

  • Habitat maintenance
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Soil formation and fertility

Cultural Services

  • Recreation and tourism

Scope of assessment includes

Drivers of change in systems and services


Impacts of change in services on human well-being


Options for responding/interventions to the trends observed


Explicit consideration of the role of biodiversity in the systems and services covered by the assessment


Timing of the assessment

Year assessment started


Year assessment finished


If ongoing, year assessment is anticipated to finish

Periodicity of assessment

One off

Assessment outputs

Communication materials (e.g. brochure, presentations, posters, audio-visual media)

Journal publications

Training materials

Other documents/outputs

Tools and processes

Tools and approaches used in the assessment

  • Modelling
  • Scenarios
  • Economic valuation
  • Social (non-monetary) valuation
  • Establishing common standards, methods and protocols
  • • Gathering and sharing of scientific knowledge and analysis

Process used for stakeholder engagement in the assessment process and which component

Stakeholders were engaged through the process shown by the UK’s shared framework for sustainable development Public attitudes to forestry in the UK are assessed in biennial surveys commissioned by the Forestry Commission.

Key stakeholder groups engaged

This was a scientific assessment of evidence about forestry and climate change. A wide range of experts and stakeholders in Government, private and non-governmental organisations was invited to the launch event, and the report was widely distributed.

The number of people directly involved in the assessment process


Incorporation of scientific and other types of knowledge

  • Scientific information only
  • Resource experts (e.g. foresters etc)

Supporting documentation for specific approaches, methodology or criteria developed and/or used to integrate knowledge systems into the assessment

Securing the future: Delivering UK sustainable development strategy

Assessment reports peer reviewed



Accessibility of data used in assessment

Data presented in report came from a number of sources including:

Policy impact

Impacts the assessment has had on policy and/or decision making, as evidenced through policy references and actions

The science reviewed here and the general implications for policy advice which arise from it are presented at a critical time in the development of UK policies on woodland creation and of other actions designed to achieve adaptation and mitigation through UK forestry. Our assessment has yielded the overarching and strongly held conviction that, confronted by climate change, substantial responses are required of the forestry sector. This evaluation of the science shows that the UK forestry sector can contribute significantly both to the abatement of emissions and to ensuring, through effective adaptation, that the multiple benefits of sustainable forest management continue to be provided.

Independent or other review on policy impact of the assessment


Lessons learnt for future assessments from these reviews

Capacity building

Capacity building needs identified during the assessment

This Assessment provides the evidence base for a much greater involvement of UK forests and forest products in the fight against climate change. However, provision of the evidence to substantiate the potential contribution of forestry is only the first step towards its realisation. There remain large areas of uncertainty. We have identified research priorities at the end of the chapters in this report that are targeted in particular at these uncertainties, but as important will be the processes of communication of the findings to those in decision-making positions in both the public and private sectors. Awareness at this level will enable the development of policies putting trees, woodlands and forestry at the heart of the UK’s response to climate change.

Actions taken by the assessment to build capacity

Network and sharing experiences, Communication and awareness raising

How have gaps in capacity been communicated to the different stakeholders

The report should stimulate greater engagement by individuals, businesses and government in consideration of the future role of trees and forests in the UK landscape. Undoubtedly, some of the measures shown in this study to have significant mitigation potential may not in the first instance receive universal approval. Progress towards broadly acceptable strategies for reducing the impacts of climate change will depend upon cooperative working between organisations, interest groups and individuals, and an understanding of the need to identify widely acceptable solutions.

Knowledge generation

Gaps in knowledge identified from the assessment

Current revisions to the UKFS and the introduction of a supporting guideline on climate change will help focus attention on whether the systems in place prove adequate for the new policy and management challenges presented by climate change. But forest planning faces difficult decisions on how to address the many objectives of forestry. Managers will require ongoing input from the research community as to how woodlands can best deliver against the many demands placed on them. It is the intention of this report to evaluate existing knowledge and to identify gaps in understanding, so that the climate change elements of this management challenge can be met in the future.

How gaps in knowledge have been communicated to the different stakeholders

Wide circulation of the report after publication High profile launch, involving Government minister, with wide range of attendees Regional stakeholder events and seminars followed the launch of the report

Additional relevant information

The full report can be ordered from: