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.
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 certification standard is not a certification scheme but, uniquely, it is designed as a single national certification standard for common use by international forest certification schemes operating in the UK.
The standard was recognised by the Forest Stewardship Council as equivalent to an official FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard in 1999 and in 2002 it was endorsed by PEFC as the core component of The PEFC United Kingdom Certification Scheme for Sustainable Forest Management. The UKWAS standard therefore provides the basis for both schemes’ 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 is widely regarded as having 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. A Fourth Edition was agreed by stakeholders in 2016 and adopted for use in FSC and PEFC certification from 1 April 2018.
The UKWAS continues to serve a vital role in enabling producers to demonstrate their good credentials to consumers and by 2020, 43% of UK woodland was certified to the UKWAS standard through the FSC and/or PEFC schemes; this covered 100% of public sector woodlands and 23% of private sector woodlands.