CONFERENCE: Data and science vital to modern forestry

14 December 2022

The increasing use of data and science is vital for the forestry industry to make a compelling case for modern productive planting, Confor's London policy conference heard.

Olly Hughes, Managing Director of Gresham House, described the firm's work with NatureMetrics to identify what species were present in a "significant forest in Scotland." 

The data analysis found the site had 22 birds, 16 mammals, 7 fish (including endangered eels), 4 amphibians, and 310 invertebrates. 

"Is this a green desert - or a diverse productive ecosystem?" Mr Hughes asked delegates. 

The eDNA (environmental DNA) survey was part of  Gresham House's wider commitment to sustainable forestry, Mr Hughes told the conference. The Gresham House Forest Charter, he said, sets out "verifiable commitments and targets for ongoing sustainable forest management and natural capital development". This covered timber certification, biodiversity and natural capital, safe, fair and diverse workplaces, positive climate impacts, meaningful engagement with (and delivering benefits for) communities and forest protection.  

The industry had a responsibility to show positive impact, he said, adding: "We have to appreciate the differences in opinion [towards productive forestry] and acknowledge them - but relying on adhering to regulatory standards is not enough." 

Investment capital had a "huge part to play", Mr Hughes said, but he stressed that forestry "was not the only option". 

He continued: "Investors want to invest more responsibility with greater impact. The philosophy [of foresters] has been to make as little impact as possible - but we should stand up and be proud of what we do, and the positive impact we have." 

The eDNA survey reflected a need to gather more "good empirical data" about productive modern forests, he said. 

"What we gathered was just a snapshot, but we want to share it with people," Mr Hughes concluded. "If we want to move the needle, we need to demonstrate positive impact. When we do things badly, we should acknowledge that, but we should not apologise for what we are doing - we should be proud of it." 

Earlier, Forestry Commission Chief Executive Richard Stanford called for the forestry industry to make greater use of science and date to demonstrate its positive impacts - while Dr Andrew Cameron stressed the need to look at the whole life cycle of wood to give a full picture of the relative climate change impacts of different forest types. 

He highlighted Bangor University research showing that newly-planted productive spruce forest over two harvests supported up to 269% more greenhouse gas mitigation potential than newly planted broadleaf conservation forests. 

"Only 3% of the total global forest area comprises productive plantation forests, yet they produce one-third of the world’s industrial timber," he said. "With global timber demand predicted to more than double by 2050, a greater proportion of global demand will have to be sourced from natural and semi-natural forests." 

By planting more large productive forests, Dr Cameron said, there was a win-win because these natural and semi-natural forests could be better protected.