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.


Development of woodland certification in the UK

1996 UK Forestry Accord – Institute of Chartered Foresters facilitates an agreement between business and environmental and social NGOs on a set of objectives and principles for responsible forestry
1997 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
1998 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
1999 Independent ‘UK Woodland Assurance Scheme’ concept developed – a certification standard based primarily on the UK Forestry Standard for use in others’ certification programmes
1999 UKWAS standard approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as conformant with its Principles & Criteria for Forest Stewardship and equivalent to the official FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard
2002 UKWAS name changed from ‘scheme’ to ‘standard’ better to reflect its status
2002 UKWAS standard endorsed as the basis for PEFC certification in the UK
2002 A not-for-profit company established to own and manage the UKWAS standard on behalf of UK forestry, environmental and social communities
2004 UK Government launches a revised UK Forestry Standard
2005 UKWAS website launched
2006 First full UKWAS revision completed and Second Edition launched
2007 Concordats developed between UKWAS Steering Group and FSC UK and PEFC UK setting out each party’s respective role
2007 Small Woods Review initiated
2008 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
2009 First woodlands dual-certified through both FSC and PEFC schemes
2011 Second full UKWAS revision completed and submitted to FSC and PEFC Council for approval
2011 PEFC Council endorses UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.0) for use from 1st January 2012
2011 New UKWAS website launched and UKWAS 3.0 published
2012 An amended version of UKWAS Third Edition – to be known as UKWAS 3.1 – completed to address FSC conditions of approval
2012 FSC approves UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.1) for use from 1st July 2012
2013 PEFC Council endorses amended UKWAS Third Edition (version 3.1) for use from 31st July 2013
2013 Updated Concordats between UKWAS Steering Group and FSC UK and PEFC UK signed at AGM
2016 Third full UKWAS revision completed and submitted to FSC UK and PEFC UK to be forwarded to their international parent bodies for approval/endorsement
2017 UK government and devolved administrations launch a revised UK Forestry Standard
2018 FSC and PEFC adopt UKWAS Fourth Edition for use from 1st April 2018
2018 New UKWAS website launched and UKWAS 4.0 published