Those charged with drawing up the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) have always been conscious that certification presents a particular challenge for owners and managers of smaller woodlands.
Almost half of the UK forest area and around 85% of the wood produced is now certified and it is clear that forest certification is a mainstream activity. However, a large proportion of small, privately owned woodlands is not certified and this continues to be a major concern for the UKWAS Steering Group. The measures taken to help make the standard more accessible for managers of smaller woodlands are set out below.
UKWAS First Edition (1999)
The first edition of the UKWAS standard recognised that the level and complexity of management needed to meet the requirements of the certification standard should depend on the size and type of the woodland management unit being audited.
The standard therefore included means of verification customised to the needs of smaller owners with woodlands of up to 100 hectares so that, when undertaking their assessment, certification bodies would not expect the same level of documentation or management systems and procedures as are normally used for larger or more intensively managed woodland areas.
UKWAS Second Edition (2006 and amended 2008)
Having concluded the first full revision of the UKWAS standard in November 2006 the UKWAS Steering Group decided to see what more might be done for smaller owners.
A Small Woods Task Group was established to take forward this work. Their final report, UKWAS for Smaller Woods, concluded that the Steering Group could contribute most effectively to reducing cost and complexity for smaller owners through making changes to the text of the UKWAS standard and providing more comprehensive advice and guidance on certification.
The Steering Group accepted the report’s recommendations and following a public consultation exercise the Steering Group approved an amended version of the UKWAS to reflect better the needs of smaller owners. This amended version of the second edition of the UKWAS standard was launched on 26th November 2008.
The principal change was the introduction of a new Small and/or Low Intensity Managed (‘SLIM’) woodland category: this incorporated the previous Small Woodland category of 100 hectares or under and extended it to include woodlands being managed in a low intensity manner using a definition based on harvested volumes.
The majority of UK woodland owners fall into this expanded category as most woodland ownerships are relatively small. Therefore, more owners were able to benefit from SLIM woodland managers not normally needing the same level of documentation or management systems as managers of larger or more intensively managed woodland areas. Another benefit was that certification schemes generally require a reduced intensity of audit for SLIM woodlands and so costs are reduced.
The UKWAS Steering Group was mindful that it could only play a limited role in developing solutions for smaller owners as other parties play important roles in the certification process too. The Steering Group therefore commissioned an independent report from ProForest Ltd to recommend additional actions that others might take to support smaller woodland owners. Their report, Maintaining and extending Market Access for UK Timber from Small and/or Low Intensity Managed (SLIM) Woodlands, was presented to the Steering Group in April 2008.
The Forestry Commission and the Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor) took the lead in considering which recommendations might most usefully be taken forward. Following discussion, the Steering Group concluded that the two most promising areas for action were:
- Meeting the provisions of the FSC ‘Controlled Wood’ and PEFC ‘Non-controversial Sources’ process in the UK
- Alignment of Forestry Commission/Forest Service and UKWAS management planning requirements.
Consequently, FSC UK and PEFC UK were asked to take any measures necessary to allow the operation of the FSC ‘Controlled Wood’ and PEFC ‘Non-controversial Sources’ processes in the UK. These processes allow a certified supply chain to contain a proportion of uncertified material from low risk sources so reducing costs for smaller owners.
- FSC UK undertook a risk assessment for the UK and applied for a Low Risk status designation for the UK from FSC International which was granted for Great Britain in 2011. Low Risk designation for Northern Ireland was made contingent on the introduction of felling licensing as provided for in the Forestry Act (Northern Ireland) 2010
- PEFC UK confirmed that its existing procedures allow for individual companies to include a proportion of uncertified timber from Non-controversial Sources in a certified supply chain.
In addition, the Forestry Commission and Forest Service were asked to consider better alignment of their process requirements with UKWAS management planning and certification process requirements.
- FC confirmed that it wished to scope what opportunities might exist for appropriate, improved alignment between UKFS implementation and certification; it has suggested this is best taken forward by means of a small working group once the new UKFS is agreed
- The FS has confirmed via the FC that they are also content to proceed in this manner.
UKWAS Third Edition (2011)
During the UKWAS review between 2009 and 2011 there was a further review of small and low intensity managed (SLIM) woodland issues including international benchmarking to follow up the 2008 ProForest Report which recommended inter alia that further consideration should be given to simplifying certification processes.
A PEFC UK team undertook international benchmarking in 2009 to examine approaches to certification under PEFC requirements in other European countries with a view to identifying ways of increasing the uptake of certification in the UK with a particular focus on medium-sized woodlands of 100 to 500 hectares. Visits were made to Geneva, Belgium, Slovakia and Norway and the summary findings were as follows:
- Certification is tailored to the circumstances in each country – history, forest types, ownership patterns
- A high level of co-operation was found between state/private owners (Belgium and Slovakia) or between private owners (Norway)
- Certification is based on large “groups” with internal audit processes embracing both large and small properties providing some cross-subsidy for smaller owners
- Certification is more accommodating to small owners than in the UK
- The costs to private owners are much lower than in UK.
Evidence from the countries visited indicates that certification costs (to the owner) can be much lower than in the UK. Part of the reason for this appears to be that the intensity of both internal audit (group schemes) and external audit (certification bodies) is lower than in the UK.
The UKWAS Steering Group therefore commissioned Sandwood Enterprise to undertake a further study focusing on what measures could be taken in the UK to reduce auditing costs. From this work, the UKWAS Steering Group concluded that the two options most likely to help drive down auditing costs were:
- Changing the area threshold and/or intensity thresholds for Small and/or Low Intensity Managed (SLIM) woodlands in the UK
- Promoting group certification as the most cost effective route for most independent owners to achieve certification.
In consequence, the Steering Group decided that it was appropriate to raise the ‘small woodland’ upper threshold from 100 hectares to 500 hectares in the third edition of the UKWAS standard; this should deliver benefits to a greater proportion of smaller owners in terms of ensuring that certification scheme auditing requirements are not unduly onerous.
The Steering Group continues to recommend that smaller owners should consider joining a group scheme rather than undertaking certification as a single entity.