The launch of this third edition of the United Kingdom Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) marks another milestone in the development of forestry certification in the UK.
The first edition in 1999 heralded a sea-change in our sector’s approach to demonstrating its environmental and social credentials alongside its contribution to the national economy. The UKWAS standard is now central to the UK programmes of both the leading global certification schemes – the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). The latest figures show that 50% of the UK’s woodland area and an estimated 85% of harvested timber is certified through one or both of these schemes. Indeed it is a unique feature of the UK forestry sector that woodlands can be dual certified to a single national standard so providing enterprises with the maximum possible flexibility to meet their customers’ needs. There can be little doubt that the UKWAS has contributed to raising the standard of woodland management across the United Kingdom.
This new edition has been developed by a multi-stakeholder steering group and is evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its approach. Its development has been informed by a three-year review process including international benchmarking and three rounds of stakeholder consultation. Full account has been taken of the new UK Forestry Standard’s requirements and those of FSC and PEFC.
Many changes involve minor updating to embrace new technical or scientific knowledge such as the latest guidance on deadwood management. In addition, the Steering Group has looked to embrace new and complex issues facing woodland managers such as the need for our woodlands to be resilient to climate change and the consequent impact on our weather and the incidence of pests and disease.
The opportunity has also been taken to clarify the standard wherever possible with particular focus on defining the woodland management unit, identifying woodlands of high conservation value and elaborating better the requirements restricting the conversion of woodland to non-forested land. The section on pesticides, biological control agents and fertilizers has also been revised so that it now conforms to both FSC and PEFC requirements whilst re-emphasising its clear focus on avoiding and minimising usage.
As a consequence of a further review of small and low intensity managed (SLIM) woodland issues and the results of international benchmarking, the ‘small woodland’ upper threshold has been raised from 100 hectares to 500 hectares; this should deliver benefits to smaller owners in terms of ensuring that certification scheme auditing requirements are not unduly onerous.
I am confident that this third edition will prove to be a robust and essential tool enabling UK producers to demonstrate their good credentials to stakeholders and customers.
Peter Wilson FICFor CEnv