Addressing barriers to woodland management: the latest tools and techniques

Logo: Northwoods

By Rosanna Curtis, Project Manager, Northwoods Innovation Programme

A group of people being led through an event in the woods
A woodland inventory event run by Northwoods, where attendees collected inventory data in the woods before uploading it to myForest (Northwoods)

Did you know that around 50% of private woodland in England is classed as unmanaged despite the range in benefits that managed woodland brings? These include enhancing biodiversity, protecting woodlands from the impact of invasive species, pests and diseases, mitigating the potentially devastating effects of climate change and diversifying income streams. Despite the benefits, multiple barriers to woodland management are well known, including:

  • Funding woodland management activities
  • Confidence identifying, engaging, and appointing appropriate forestry services
  • Knowledge of and understanding pathways to actively manage woodlands
  • Tree health issues and catastrophic weather events
  • Environmental constraints such as access
  • Time constraints on landowners and managers

It is vital that tools and support are available to landowners and managers to help them overcome these barriers and unlock the opportunities that woodlands and forestry can present to landowners. As a result, the Northwoods Innovation Programme - funded by the Forestry Commission through the Woods into Management Forestry Innovation Fund (WiMFIF) – was established last year to support land-based professionals in the North East and Yorkshire to do precisely that.

The Programme is currently undertaking three key pillars of work to support land-based professionals and woodland management: developing digital capabilities, building woodland networks to share tools and techniques, and supporting woodland management innovators.

This article refers predominantly to land managers for simplicity but recognises that a variety of land-based professionals are involved in and support the management of woody resources. It is relevant to all and aims to provide an update on tools and methods to support the management of woodlands.

Group of people watching a drone demonstration at the edge of a forest
A demonstration of a thermal drone surveys during a Northwoods event to support wildlife management, undertaken by WildTrackPro, innovators in wildlife management (Northwoods)

Mapping and managing woodlands with myForest

Northwoods is delivered by a number of consortium members, including Sylva Foundation, which developed and manages the myForest Platform. myForest is an easy to use, intuitive mapping platform to help land managers map and then manage woodlands, including producing maps and forms required to be submitted to the Forestry Commission for grants and felling licenses.

As part of the Northwoods Innovation Programme, Sylva Foundation has been expanding myForest and developing its capabilities. In Spring 2023, geospatial mapping capabilities were launched to allow managers to take maps into the field and plot points in real time. This saves managers time when they return to the office and also improves the accuracy of points and additional information.

Currently, Sylva Foundation is improving the woodland inventory capability of myForest. Undertaking woodland inventories are vital to help managers understand the resource and support the development of a management plan to meet the objectives of that woodland including biodiversity and timber products. The improved inventory capabilities will be easy to use and allow managers to input data and tree measurements simply whilst allowing the software in the background to undertake the relevant calculations based on best forestry practice and principles.

This tool is being developed to support managers improve stores of information on woodlands, reduce time to undertake inventories through automatic calculation, allows those with less detailed forestry knowledge to undertake woodland inventories and standardise the export of data into Forestry Commission forms for grants, management plans, and felling licences to save time and improve the quality of information going to the regulation authority which in turn reduces time taken for approval and questions.

The new inventory capability is set for launch in early 2024 after which, Northwoods will develop the export capabilities of myForest by enabling the productions of timber sale and contract documents from the information stored on myForest quickly and easily. The aim of this is again to reduce time, improve the quality of information to buyers, improve transparency of sales process, improves confidence of both buyer and seller, and enable owners and managers to undertake management activities.

Building networks to share tools and techniques

A man holding up a phone and demonstrating the information showing
myForest being demonstrated on a mobile phone during a Northwoods woodland inventory event (Northwoods)

A large element of overcoming barriers and addressing challenges is bringing land manager communities together alongside members of the forestry sector; to put concerns, solutions and wider knowledge exchange into forums that help all stakeholders to improve connectedness and awareness of tools available to help individuals undertake their roles.

Northwoods has been responsible for organising a wide range of events such as undertaking woodland inventories and demonstrating innovative tools to support wildlife management. Most events include some sort of knowledge transfer between experts in the sector and owners and managers to help improve the flow of information to owners/managers but also to the forestry sector which in turn helps them develop their services to support owners/managers in their roles. Events also include demonstrations of innovative tools to attendees, allowing plenty of time for networking and questions.

Supporting woodland management innovators

The Northwoods Innovation Programme is delivered by a consortium which consists of a range of forestry services, including experienced, chartered Foresters. The structure of Northwoods enables the programme to provide expert advice and insight into the forestry industry to help others develop innovative tools and methods to support woodland management.

One example of an organisation that has benefited from Northwoods support is WildTrackPro. Located in the North of England, WildTrackPro has developed software to automate the collection and reporting of relevant wildlife conservation and management data, particularly in respect of deer and squirrel species.

A man pointing at a laptop screen that shows drone footage
Woodland inventory event participants are given a demonstration using myForest, uploading their inventory data (Northwoods)

Northwoods is now providing support to WildTrackPro to explore and develop greater capabilities to collect a wider range of ecological data to help managers manage their resources and also support the reporting of data for grant purposes. WildTrackPro have also been invited to deliver Northwoods demonstration events, both in person and through a webinar, in order to give landowners further insight into the innovations available to support their woodland management.

There are a number of other innovators receiving support from Northwoods, which provides another mechanism for overcoming woodland management barriers.

Re-establishing a woodland initiative in the North East and Yorkshire area

The Northwoods Innovation Programme is just one way we are supporting land-based professionals with woodland management. There are several other projects including developing and providing woodland management and supply chain training.

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Posted On: 25/11/2023

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