The 1990s saw rising consumer concern about the environmental impacts of forest management across the world and a demand for assurance that timber products were sourced from well managed forests.

There was much debate on how best to achieve this in the UK context. Initially there was considerable disagreement; some advocated reliance on the governmental controls already in place and others championed a new process known as forest certification involving independent verification against a published standard defining sustainable forest management.

In time, the UK’s forestry, environmental and social communities chose to work together to develop an independent standard to reflect the requirements of the UK Government’s UK Forestry Standard and through this the guidelines adopted by European Forestry Ministers at Helsinki in 1993 and Lisbon in 1998.

The launch of the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) in 1999 was a landmark event for UK forestry; it was achieved through a sense of common purpose and the sheer hard work of those involved and it put the UK at the forefront of the global certification movement. The standard was adopted by the Forest Stewardship Council and later by PEFC UK as the basis for their UK certification programmes.
In 2002, a not-for-profit company was established by the UKWAS partners to own and manage the standard.

Certification is now an established part of the UK forestry scene and the UKWAS has made an important contribution to raising the standards of woodland management.

The Second Edition published in 2006 was again developed by a multi-stakeholder steering group taking full account of responses to a public consultation. Further changes were adopted in 2008 as an amended Second Edition to make the standard more accessible for owners and managers of smaller woodlands or those managed in a low intensity manner. A Third Edition was agreed by the stakeholders in 2011 and subsequently approved/endorsed by the FSC and the PEFC Council.

The UKWAS continues to serve a vital role in enabling producers to demonstrate their good credentials to consumers.

Milestones in the development of woodland certification in the UK

    • UK Forestry Accord – agreement between business and environmental and social NGOs on a set of objectives and principles for responsible forestry (1996)
    • Forestry Commission acts as a facilitator in bringing together a broad range of stakeholder groups to develop an ‘audit protocol’ to assess sustainable forest management (1997)
    • UK Government launches a UK Forestry Standard (1998)
    • Agreement reached by the stakeholders that ownership of any certification standard must rest with the stakeholders and that all decisions must be based on consensus
    • Independent ‘UK Woodland Assurance Scheme’ concept developed – a certification standard based primarily on the UK Forestry Standard for use in others’ certification programmes
    • UKWAS standard approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as conformant with its Principles & Criteria for Forest Stewardship (1999)
    • UKWAS name later changed from ‘scheme’ to ‘standard’
    • UKWAS standard endorsed as the basis for PEFC certification in the UK (2002)
    • An UKWAS company established to own and manage the UKWAS standard on behalf of UK forestry, environmental and social communities (2002)
    • UK Government launches a revised UK Forestry Standard (2004)
    • UKWAS website launched (2005)
    • First full UKWAS revision completed and Second Edition launched (2006)
    • Concordats developed between UKWAS Steering Group and FSC UK and PEFC UK setting out each party’s respective role (2007)
    • Small Woods Review initiated (2007)
    • Nearly 50% of all UK woodland and c.80% of the timber harvest certified by FSC against UKWAS standard (2008)
    • An amended version of the UKWAS Second Edition introduced to reflect better the needs of smaller owners – the principal change was the introduction of a new Small and Low Intensity Managed (‘SLIM’) woodland category (November 2008)
    • First woodlands dual-certified through both FSC and PEFC schemes (2009)
    • Second full UKWAS revision completed and submitted to FSC and PEFC Council for approval (31st July 2011)
    • PEFC Council endorses UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.0) for use from 1st January 2012 (November 2011)
    • New UKWAS website launched and UKWAS 3.0 published (1st December 2011)
    • An amended version of UKWAS Third Edition – to be known as UKWAS 3.1 – completed to address FSC conditions of approval (March 2012)
    • FSC approves UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.1) for use from 1st July 2012 (May 2012)
    • PEFC Council endorses amended UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.1) for use from 31st July 2013 (July 2013)
    • Updated Concordats between UKWAS Steering Group and FSC UK and PEFC UK signed at AGM (September 2013)
    • Third full UKWAS revision completed and submitted to FSC UK and PEFC UK to be forwarded to their international parent bodies for approval/endorsement (April 2016)
    • UKWAS fourth edition introduced following FSC approval and PEFC endorsement (April 2018).