Friday, 28 February 2014

Britain's forest area close to 3 million hectares

The Forestry Commission has published new maps and statistics showing that Great Britain has about two and a half times more forest and woodland than it had 100 years ago.

They show that Britain has almost 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres) of forest and woodland, representing 13 per cent of the total land area, and equivalent to almost 4 million football pitches. 

It is estimated that a century ago woodland cover was between only 4 and 6 per cent.

The new reports and maps form part of the National Forest Inventory (NFI), and show that, at 31 March 2011:
  • Great Britain had 2,979,354 hectares of woodland;
  • England had 1,292,372ha (10% of the land area);
  • Scotland had 1,383,410ha (18%);
  • Wales had 303,572ha (15%);
  • 42% of woodland comprised mostly conifer species
  • 37% mostly broadleaved species
  • remaining 21% comprised mostly mixed conifers and broadleaves; and
  • the Forestry Commission managed 807,288ha, or 27%, of Britain's woodland, with other owners managing the remaining 2,172,066 hectares, or 73%
The woodland area information comprises separate reports for Britain, England, Scotland and Wales. The England and Scotland reports include regional breakdowns. 

They, and other NFI products, can be downloaded free from the NFI area of the Forestry Commission website.

Britain's woodland cover had declined to an estimated 4-6% by the beginning of the 20th century after thousands of years of forest removal for fuel, timber, industry, farming and settlements. 

It has been expanding since the 1920s as successive governments have encouraged new forest planting. Reforestation programmes initially focused on re-establishing a strategic reserve of home-grown timber. However, policy has evolved to focus on creating a multi-purpose woodland resource also encompassing environmental protection (including climate change mitigation and adaptation), wildlife conservation, public recreation and health, and community development.

The NFI is based on measurement of all rural and urban woodland areas of 0.5ha or greater in size. Its predecessor, the National Inventory of Woodland & Trees (NIWT), compiled in the late 1990s, measured only the total area of woodlands of 2ha or greater, and estimated the total area of rural woodlands smaller than 2ha, based on a sample.

The current NFI is being compiled over the five years 2009 to 2014 from satellite imagery, aerial photography and field surveys; Forestry Commission, NRW and owners' records; and data analysis. 

The full suite of NFI outputs will include reports on woodland area, health and condition; timber, carbon, biomass and species content; various woodland uses and facilities; and forecasts of how some of these aspects could change over the coming decades under different scenarios.

It enables the Forestry Commission, Natural Resources Wales and other environmental, land and infrastructure authorities to track changes over time - crucially, in the health and condition of trees, woods and forests - and provides essential, up-to-date information on which to base advice, guidance, planning and management decisions.

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