Urgent Action Needed to Avert ‘Catastrophic Ecosystem Collapse’ in UK Forests

A dire warning has been sounded by a group of 42 British experts, suggesting that the UK’s already deforested nation could witness silent, lifeless forests within a generation. The experts emphasize the looming threat of “ecosystem collapse,” where trees face sudden fading and death, potentially occurring within the next 50 years. However, they express hope that immediate action can prevent this catastrophic scenario.

The loss of vast forest areas due to factors like “wind, fire, pests, and disease” has already been witnessed in continental Europe and North America. Dr. Eleanor Tew of Forestry England and Cambridge University, part of the expert panel, paints a grim picture, stating that a collapsed forest would be heart-breaking, devoid of essential life and the multitude of benefits it provides to humanity. Despite this, she emphasizes that there is still time to make a difference, and we possess the knowledge to enhance the resilience of our forests for the benefit of future generations.

The UK currently ranks among the least forested countries in Europe, and its remaining woodlands confront numerous challenges. Climate change, biodiversity loss, invasive species, damage from deer and grey squirrels, and a surge in tree pests and pathogens all contribute to the perilous state of the nation’s forests. Additionally, a skills shortage in the forestry sector poses a threat to achieving government tree planting targets.

Potential solutions proposed by the experts include planting diverse forests with a variety of species, creating ecosystems that are more beneficial for wildlife and resistant to external pressures such as floods, droughts, and diseases.

The experts identify several “overlooked and emerging issues” through the first “horizon-scanning” exercise for UK forests. These include competition with human society for water, the rise of new pests and pathogens, especially viruses, and extreme weather affecting forest management.

Collaborating on the study, Forestry England (a part of the Forestry Commission) and the University of Cambridge published their findings in the journal Forestry.

As recent storms have already led to significant tree losses, urgent attention is required to address these challenges and secure the future of the UK’s vital forests.

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