Forests, woodlands and trees provide a vast array of environmental, social and economic benefits. Of particular importance is the critical role of forests and woodlands in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. However, the threats to woodland and trees from pests and diseases are real and increasing.
There are 3.2 million hectares of forests and woodland in the UK, which cover 13% of our land area. Although woodland cover is increasing, this figure remains much lower than the European average.
The governments of the UK have embarked on ambitious tree planting programmes to significantly increase woodland cover. For example, England aims to reach at least 12% woodland cover by mid-century, contributing to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The UK’s conifer and broadleaved woodlands will be managed both for environmental and social benefits, and as a sustainable source of timber and wood products, which will see increased demand as part of our transition to a green economy.
The new planting programmes come at a time when our woodlands and trees are under increasing threat from novel pests and diseases and the impacts of environmental and land-use change. These threats are complex and interrelated, and compounded by the effects of the changing climate that we are already experiencing.
Planting and establishing the right tree in the right place will get the most out of our trees and woodlands for society, the environment and the economy. There is a government commitment for more diverse forests and woodlands that are better designed and managed to ensure they are resilient to threats. We need to understand how to create and manage these natural capital assets in order to protect them from environmental stresses, including pests and diseases.
To support these aims, the UK Government is now bringing together the best tree health science and expertise from Forest Research and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, to lead a collaborative platform that will take a holistic and future-focused approach to identifying and countering existing and emerging threats.
The new Centre for Forest Protection will work to protect the future of our forests, woodlands and trees from environmental and socio-economic threats, through the provision of innovative science, interdisciplinary research, expert advice and training. The combination and use of the strengths of both organisations will deliver much-needed additional capacity and capability to meet new and existing challenges.
Our science programme will support the UK governments' forest and tree strategies and the successful delivery of tree planting programmes. Research outcomes will also directly contribute to the improved resilience of the UK’s forests, woodlands and trees and help promote enhanced capacity and capability in forest and tree health research.
A key priority for the Centre is knowledge exchange and ensuring that research outputs are shaped by stakeholder engagement to increase their relevance and impact. Part of this will be working with stakeholders to create a knowledge hub to promote the sharing of evidence, expertise and best practice that can help promote the resilience of forests and woodlands.