PLANTING AND managing trees to produce wood can deliver biodiversity benefits alongside playing a vital role in the fight against climate change.

According to a new analysis produced by forestry trade body Confor, properly planned commercial forests planted in the UK have significant value as wildlife habitats.

Researcher Eleanor Harris drew on a large body of research and case studies to argue that suitably-sited forests for wood production can deliver great benefits for wildlife, and that 'appropriate harvesting' from native woodland can often enhance its biodiversity value.

In the West Highlands, John Little, a forest manager with Tilhill, who has worked in Argyll for 30 years, has seen hen harriers and sea eagles colonise as forests mature, along with red squirrels and signs of their predators, pine marten and wildcat. He said he was always struck by the contrast in birdsong between forest and the rough grazing it replaced.

“My observation, as a working forest manager over many years, is that forestry delivers a significant improvement for biodiversity,” said Mr Little.

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: “For many years, the biodiversity value of wood-producing forests and managed woodland of all types has been under-valued and under-recognised. As we face climate and nature emergencies, it’s vital that all suitable action is taken and that we base our actions on evidence. This analysis argues that well-managed forests can deliver positive climate and biodiversity benefits.”

The 'Biodiversity, Forestry and Wood' report highlights that producing more wood in the UK will also reduce pressure on fragile forests overseas – what Mr Goodall called 'a biodiversity double-whammy'. Currently, the UK imports 80% of its wood products, second only globally to China in terms of net imports.

Mr Goodall added: “We want this report to stimulate debate. To tackle massive societal challenges like the climate and nature crises, we have to be open to the evidence and act accordingly. We need to move on from traditional thinking of producing wood or supporting wildlife, to one of recognising how we can achieve win-wins.

“To meet the UK Government’s hugely ambitious target (30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025), we need to have the confidence to embrace all types of new planting. Modern productive forests avoid trade-offs between tackling climate change or promoting biodiversity. They also deliver green jobs, economic growth at a time of recession and the low-carbon, renewable wood products that we use so much in our daily lives.

He added: “I recognise the criticism of how some forests were planted last century. My call is for people to judge the sector on the forests we are planting now.”

The report also highlights that better management of all forests (including native woodlands) to produce wood will benefit wildlife, support local jobs and reduce imports. New productive woodland can also buffer biodiversity-rich ancient woodland and provide species corridors.