Winters are becoming milder and rainier, summers are getting warmer, growing seasons are longer, and frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts and heavy rainfall, are occurring more frequently. Since we are predicting unprecedented rates of climate change, taking action now is essential to protect forests and woodlands and increase resilience of them. This article will discuss how forest research and woodlands adaption measures can help with climate change.
How Do Forests Combat Climate Change Right Now?
The removal and storage of carbon dioxide by forests slows the rate of climate change. A large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the primary driver of the changing climate. As well as reducing the direct effects of climate change, forests also provide indirect benefits. These can include:
- Preserves soil integrity.
- Reduces flood intensity.
- Protects water quality.
- Improves air quality by adding oxygen.
- Absorbs rainwater and slows its above-ground movement (also helping with soil integrity).
- Regulates temperature.
- Connecting to the above, less energy and carbon dioxide regulates the indoor environment’s temperature.
- Reduces airborne pollutants from the changing climate.
- Minimises harmful bioaccumulation in air and water.
- Protects important forest-dwelling species.
- Environmentally friendly and renewable resources are produced, allowing for a smaller environmental footprint than manufactured alternatives.
How Does Climate Change Affect Woodlands?
Although the forests already combat climate change, they are negatively affected by it as time passes. The UKFS practice guide from the forestry commission England has a handy manual on adapting woodlands for the changing climate emergency.
Eventually, climate change might overcome what benefits our forests and woodlands provide because they are slowly destroying them. This includes both direct and indirect effects climate change can have.
- The longer growing seasons, increased warmth, and rising carbon dioxide levels are predicted to improve tree growth rates for most species where water is not a limiting factor.
- New pests and diseases can be a more significant threat with the direct effects of climate change.
- Declining tree health in several species.
- Increasing difficulty in tree species establishment.
- Difficulty in woodland creation through the migration process.
- Limited mortality of tree species.
- Alternative species migrate into other tree species’ natural habitats.
- Mature trees could die due to both direct and indirect climate change effects.
- The character, structure, and composition of ground flora and fauna could drastically change.
- Drought-sensitive tree species could be impacted.
- Shallow-free-draining soil could be impacted.
- Forest road drainage may be inadequate in extreme rainfall due to climate change.
- Wind blow and damage are increased due to a higher frequency of winter gales.
- Some woods and forest areas are likely to be affected by wildfires more often in the future.
What Woodlands Adaption Can Help With Climate Change?
We all need to work together to save our woodlands in the UK and worldwide! Several practical adaptation actions can be taken to aid in this forest and woodland management process and keep our forests healthy and growing.
- Forest managers teaching people about forest research to raise awareness of future changes.
- Encouraging natural regeneration.
- Assisting with migration (including to new locations for woodland creation).
- Managing their condition to keep track of their overall health.
- Managing genotypes and species changes.
- Improving biosecurity.
- Discourage foreign pests and pathogens with biological controls/pesticides.
What Has Already Helped With Woodlands Adaption So Far?
Some things are already in place, whether these are actual adaptation measures or educational resources. They have often come from the government or charities through initiatives or newly constructed groups:
- National plant health week
- Royal forestry society
- Natural resources Wales
- The forestry commission
- Scottish forestry commission
- The Alice Holt forest (an example of royal forest protection)
- Forestry England
- Woodland owners working with the forestry commission
- Nationwide biodiversity drives
Habitats and Species for Woodlands Adaption
Drier summers may increase stress levels in species affected by drought, like Sitka spruce, especially in eastern Scotland. Drier summers can also lead to a decline in oceanic lower plants – though wetter winters should limit the impact.
This can then lead to many species trying to migrate towards a better climate for them (often northwards and uphill). However, tree species could spread to areas they are not native to, which causes long-term issues with their natural regeneration. Movement rates may vary, resulting in a change in community composition. It is possible that other species will only disappear if we intervene to assist them in moving quickly enough to keep up with changes – locally or nationally.
Keeping the trees in their natural habitat is essential, so limiting climate change will allow for more controlled migration and a better composition for healthy trees.
Pathogens and Foreign Pests
A warmer climate could encourage pathogens and pests to shift their environment, spreading to areas that are usually cooler. These organisms can spread because they can move wherever the heat travels. As climate change increases the temperature, these foreign microbes can interact with tree species. Just like us, they can get infected by these unknown pathogens that they are not hardened against, making them diseased and unable to control their ‘immune system’.
The problems we have now, such as red band needle blight in the late 1990s, can quickly become more common if climate change continues. The blight caused mass destruction to trees, particularly Corsican pine, and whole habitats could die in the most severe cases. This resulted in future poor growth health over the past decades. This tree species is no longer planted, and other crops are felled due to the affliction of the red band needle rendering it too feeble to stay alive alone. Lodgepole pine is going in a similar direction as Corsican, but the Scots pine is less at risk, thanks to forest management.
Definition: Describes how climate influences animal and plant life annually, such as budding and migrations of birds.
Since 1971, the timing of seasonal events has changed in plants. These changes include:
- Pollen season starts ten days earlier and lasts longer.
- Spring and summer start approximately 2.5 days earlier each decade.
- Trees have come into leaf earlier.
Though these seem like minute changes, they significantly impact different ecological processes overall. It also doesn’t help that species and species groups change seasonal timings at different rates, making them uneven. Examples of disrupted ecological processes include bird’s eggs, which can hatch before any insect food is available for the chicks because the insects have not yet emerged from their cocoons. Butterflies can also appear before the plants they can eat are fully grown. This delayed cycle continues up through the food cycle, which can eventually affect us too.
Carbon Storage and Woodlands
Carbon is stored in soils, often in vast amounts, especially in peaty soils. During tree growth, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored within the tree’s roots and timber. Soil, trees, and the products made from wood engage in a complex exchange of carbon. Trees remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, so growing them is generally beneficial.
The drying action of trees may cause peat to be oxidised and carbon stored in them to be returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide in forests planted on deep peat. Therefore, new afforestation is not allowed on soils containing more than 50 cm of peat. This type of forest management helps with future woodland planning.
Due to future climate change effects, a drier summer or a tree disease may affect a woodland’s carbon balance. This shows how all of the above points link together – the one common factor: climate change.
By adapting our woodlands, we can help mitigate climate change and help the trees themselves. Forest management and engagement from others are all critical for this to happen. At Woodyfuel, we are passionate about saving our woodlands, which is why our wood products are renewable and sustainable.
If you want to learn more about woodland adaption and how our company meets the strict sustainability criteria in the UK, call or email us today!