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UK forests face ‘catastrophic collapse’ – expert contributes to new report

University of Gloucestershire’s Dr Julie Urquhart has contributed to a groundbreaking new report predicting ‘catastrophic ecosystem collapse’ of UK forests within the next 50 years if action is not taken.

Dr Urquhart (pictured below), Associate Professor of Environmental Social Science, collaborated with other noted experts from a range of professions across Europe on the Forest England-funded study, led by the University of Cambridge.

They identified overlooked and emerging issues that are likely to have a significant impact on UK forests over the next 50 years, headlined by catastrophic forest ecosystem collapse, where multiple interrelated hazards have an impact on forests, leading to their total or partial collapse.

Julie Urquhart

Another issue identified by Dr Urquhart and her colleagues on the panel was that droughts caused by climate change may lead to competition for water resources between the human population and forests.

Tree viral diseases were also identified as a worry, with the numbers of pests and pathogens increasing because of globalisation and climate change.

A further concern was the effect of climate change on forest management, with extreme weather – wetter winters and hotter summers – leading to smaller windows of time when forestry can be carried out.

But the panel also identified positive opportunities in future forest management, including those linked to urban planning, with trees likely to be at the heart of future developments due to an increased understanding of their mental health and physical health benefits to society.

The study – entitled ‘A horizon scan of issues affecting UK forest management within 50 years’ – was the first of its kind focusing on UK forests to help researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and society in general, better prepare for the future and address threats before they become critical. The Forestry Commission will work with experts and partners in 2024 to look at next steps.

Benefits to society

Dr Urquhart, based within the University’s Countryside and Community Research Institute, said: “It’s clear from the report that trees planted in the UK today will face many changes as they mature over the next half-century, including the threats they face, the way that we manage them, and the benefits they deliver to society.

“While some of the issues are potentially very worrying, of course, the positive news is that we still have time to respond to the threats and fully embrace the opportunities, so future generations can have resilient forests with all the benefits they can offer society.”