A Model for Sustainable Forest Management in the UK

By Hayley Baines Buffery, Head of Sustainable Business at Bioregional


Despite starting out my career in conservation, counting and measuring trees in the Miombo woodlands of Tanzania, I quickly ditched my Tilley hat and dreams of being the next Dian Fossey for a career in corporate sustainability. While I greatly admire the work of conservationists, I was drawn to Bioregional's efforts to bring sustainability into mainstream business.

In 2013, however, my two passions -- business and the natural environment -- finally came together in the form of a new project: Good Woods.

The Good Woods project focuses on sustainably managed woodlands in the UK for the benefit of people and natural habitats. The need for the project stems from the fact that timber is a valuable commodity that is constantly in demand. For example, the trade in wood-based panels has skyrocketed 800-percent in the past three decades.

While the demand for timber continues to rise, this is not being matched by sufficient supply. One source of this problem is the common misconception that the UK's woodlands are wild places that thrive without human influence. However, most of them have been worked by humans over millennia, and appropriate management operations such as coppicing are needed to help them thrive.

Despite the need for management, in England alone almost half our forests are considered under-managed, most of them small, privately owned woodlands. This neglect has had detrimental impacts on forest jobs, recreational value and woodland biodiversity. For example, in recent years specialist woodland butterfly species have declined by over 70 percent, and one in six ancient woodland flowering plants are now threatened with extinction.

Working with forestry charity the Sylva Foundation and our founding business partner B&Q (the UK's largest home-improvement retailer), Good Woods was piloted as a new approach supporting owners, managers and community groups in improving the condition of their woodlands across the southeast and east of England.

Good Woods operates by establishing networks of organizations, such as local forestry charities and Wildlife Trusts, and identifies woodlands in need of support. We then work with professional forestry advisors who deliver practical advice to woodland owners. We provide innovative mapping tools, help to identify species, and develop a vision for long-term improvement. Beyond the forest floor, we engage with local communities to help reconnect people with nature and improve their understanding of working woodlands. Having supported over 10,900 hectares of unmanaged woodland, we are now working towards expanding our network to achieve significant impact throughout the UK.

Good Woods provides a scalable model for targeting support to UK woodlands in need of sustainable forest management. This approach is coupled with a vision for strengthening the national supply chain to bring more responsibly produced, home-grown timber into our homes and workplaces.

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