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Forestry Commission: The majesty of our nation's forests

Logo: Forestry Commission

What do forests mean to you? It’s a question that is being asked a lot during the Forestry Commission’s centenary year. And it’s one that receives a variety of replies.

The Forestry Commission looks after more land than any other organisation (Forestry Commission)
The Forestry Commission looks after more land than any other organisation (Forestry Commission)

Some people cherish forests for their enchanting beauty; others see them as a destination for activity – or for rest. All the while our woodlands provide a precious mosaic of habitats for wildlife, while we all need and benefit from the production of sustainable timber.

Our forests are gloriously multi-purpose, benefitting people and nature while providing a crucial natural resource and playing a vital role in rural economies.

At the same time, our woodlands are under pressure. The threats posed by climate change, invasive species, pests and diseases are all too real, and could have devastating impacts on our landscapes.

Despite these challenges, we can rest assured there is an organisation acting as custodians of our wooded landscapes, dedicated to protecting and improving them for generations to come.

Forestry equipment has changed a lot over the last 100 years (Forestry Commission)
Forestry equipment has changed a lot over the last 100 years (Forestry Commission)

The history 

Founded in 1919, the Forestry Commission has more than doubled Britain’s forest cover over the past 100 years.

Our forests had already suffered a steady decline since the Middle-Ages, and the additional strain of the First World War left the nation’s woodlands in a state of disrepair.

The Forestry Act was passed in September 1919 and, by Christmas that year, the first trees were in the ground, turning the tide for post-war woodlands and paving the way for the future of forestry in Britain.

In the years that followed, the Commission was given a great deal of freedom to acquire and plant new woodlands. Hundreds of thousands of acres were planted, but there were more turbulent times ahead.

The outbreak of war further impacted a number of forests, especially the Forest of Dean and New Forest. But again, the Commission responded by planting more trees and increasing England’s tree cover once more.

Technologies improved dramatically after the Second World War, alongside a growing awareness of forests for wildlife and recreation.

The Commission’s research division, established decades before, developed into the world-class operation it is today. Its work continues to influence forestry and land management policies not only in the UK, but around the world.

As time moved on, the needs of society and the environment changed. The Forestry Commission had to show considerable innovation and flexibility in accommodating these changes, by designing and managing forests to better provide access for people and habitats for wildlife, while continuing to provide a sustainable source of timber.

Forestry today 

Mountain biking is one of many activities enjoyed in our forests (Forestry Commission)
Mountain biking is one of many activities enjoyed in our forests (Forestry Commission)

In recent decades, environmental concerns have emerged at the forefront of forest management. In 2009, 99% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) on Forestry Commission land were given a rating of favourable, recognising the organisation’s investment in land management and support for wildlife.

The Commission works with a host of wildlife organisations to help threatened species, and plants a diverse range of broadleaf and conifer trees to create resilient forests for the future.

Recent years have witnessed a spike in leisure and tourism, with the development of new walking and mountain biking trails, live music events, cabin stays and wildlife walks. 

As well as being the country’s largest landowner, the Forestry Commission is the biggest single provider of outdoor recreation in England.

100th anniversary and beyond

Creative writing projects form part of the Commission's centenary celebrations (Forestry Commission)
Creative writing projects form part of the Commission's centenary celebrations (Forestry Commission)

The Forestry Commission is marking its centenary by inspiring people to connect with trees and woodlands, to help protect them for generations to come.

Activities include the Big Forest Find, the largest ever survey of forest wildlife, a creative film about sustainable timber production, and new works by sculptor Rachel Whiteread and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

A centenary running series is encouraging people to get active in the forest, while a show garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show explores climate change and tree health.

The scope of activities this year reflects the nature of the organisation. While it is celebrating its centenary this year by telling stories from the past, it has one eye firmly on the future, and the next 100 years of forestry.

To find out more visit: www.forestryengland.uk/100

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