This piece is an extract from our latest Forestry Latest News newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Friday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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ASK any forester to list the problems that exist in the industry and you'd probably have to cancel any plans you had that evening. By the time they got to the end, the play would be over, the football finished, and the cinema ready for closing. But there would probably be one issue right at the top of the pile.

Woodland management, or lack thereof, has long been a cause for concern, but it's one that has been thrust front and centre again. While it's difficult to really estimate how many of the UK's forests lie unmanaged – and thus fail to reach their full potential – by most accounts the proportion of woodland not actively managed has not meaningfully improved for the last 40 years. 

READ MORE: Woodland creation 'too narrow a focus' amid 'forest management failures'

In that time, particularly in the last decade or so, it's true forestry has enjoyed its place in the mainstream political agenda, but rarely (if ever) has that included talk of making the most of the woodlands we already have; instead it's the idea of planting more trees that gets Joe Bloggs talking. 

But maybe that's all about to change. A landmark new paper from the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) calls on governments to ensure the nation's forests are actively cared for and maximised to their full potential. 

"For decades there has been failure of policy to increase the proportion of woodland under active management," the paper states. "Woodland creation has been the too-narrow focus of policy in recent years, with existing woodlands remaining a huge, missed opportunity." 

A missed opportunity that, in all likelihood, is affecting the wider industry, even if it is easy to conflate several current issues. But maybe that's because we should. 

Currently, the UK remains the world's second-largest net importer of wood. How many unmanaged woodlands are out there with a crop that desperately needs thinned? 

The UK's woodland-creation rates are well short of the national target of 30,000 hectares/annum. How many woodlands, planted in the last four decades, could provide a tonic to our planting woes? 

That all sounds reasonable on paper, but then you wade into the tricky ground of who actually owns these unmanaged woodlands. 

Forestry Journal: The UK imports 80 per cent of its wood. Surely this could be reduced by managing our own woodlands? The UK imports 80 per cent of its wood. Surely this could be reduced by managing our own woodlands?  (Image: Newsquest)

"Ownership of woodlands is fragmented, and landowners do not have the knowledge, incentive, or confidence to understand and act on the natural capital value of their woodlands," the ICF and CIEEM document adds. "We need urgently to prioritise helping private landowners to bring more existing woodlands into sustainable management by increasing the pace, breadth and scale of ambition in policy, legislation and financial incentives."

So what to do? The document makes a number of recommendations, including: 

  • Set a binding target for sustainable woodland management 
  • Develop a grant environment that better reflects the fact that the woods that are the least managed have the most opportunity but the worst access
  • Offer easily accessible £5,000 grant for any woodland smaller than 20 hectares to develop woodland management plans and selective felling/thinning
  • Consider whether to work towards a system where all woods to be managed by an appropriately qualified professional

You'd struggle to find a forester who wouldn't agree to all of that.