New paper published highlighting key issues that must be addressed if our woodlands are to continue to deliver the range of benefits on which we depend.
Woodknowledge Wales’ Specialist Advisor Wood Science, Dainis Dauksta, and new board member Professor John Healey from Bangor University, joined a team of 42 European experts to carry out a horizon-scanning exercise and identify previously overlooked opportunities and threats faced by UK forests over the next 50 years.
Results were published in, ‘A horizon scan of issues affecting UK forest management within 50 years‘ by Tew et al., whichwas published in Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research in November 2023 
Dr Eleanor Tew, Head of Forest Planning at Forestry England and visiting researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Zoology emphasised that “The next 50 years will bring huge changes to UK forests: the threats they face, the way that we manage them, and the benefits they deliver to society” 
John Healey, Professor of Forest Sciences at Bangor University further explained that “There are many challenges to overcome to ensure that our woodlands not only provide crucial habitat for biodiversity conservation, and environments that are invaluable for human wellbeing, but also continue to produce wood as a vital renewable material that has a key role to play in achieving net zero emissions to meet the challenge of the climate crisis.” 
In the new paper, the authors focus on 15 emerging issues from a collated list of 180 that, while previously overlooked, are expected to have significant impact on UK forests over the next half century.
In their thematic analysis, the authors were able to map all fifteen issues across eleven themes of significance within three main categories: environmental shocks and perturbations, political and socio-economic drivers, and emerging interactions, as shown in Figure 2 above.
The top-ranking issue in the final list when scored individually by the expert panel was ‘Catastrophic forest ecosystem collapse’. A reference to the cascading consequences caused by the interconnected impact of a combination of hazards affecting forest environments, this level of damage to forest ecosystems has already been witnessed in North America and continental Europe. Other threats include competition with society for water, viral diseases, and extreme weather affecting forest management.
While delivering an unequivocal tale of caution and call to action, the final list of 15 issues summarised in the paper’s abstract includes a number of opportunities that are key to mitigating the adverse outcomes of climate change on both the natural world and human societies.
“It was notable that three of the selected 15 issues focused on predicted shifts in future wood product markets and the challenge of ensuring that commercial forest resources do match future value chains. It was important that the Woodknowledge Wales and Bangor University participants in the Expert Panel played a valuable role in advocating for the inclusion of these issues and developing their description in the resulting paper,” said Healey.
Summarising the significance of the expert review as a whole, Professor Bill Sutherland, Senior author and pioneer of horizon scanning at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, noted “We are already seeing dramatic events in Europe’s forests whether fires, disease or bark beetles, whilst the importance of trees is increasingly recognised. Horizon scanning to identify future issues is key, especially as trees planted now will face very different circumstances as they mature in scores of years.” 
This research was funded by Forestry England. The Forestry Commission is bringing the sector together in 2024 to look at next steps.