Forestry Commission UK

What we do - how we work

Forestry is a devolved matter. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has responsibility for forestry in England as well as certain activities such as international affairs and plant health which remain reserved by Westminster. Scottish Ministers have responsibility for forestry in Scotland.

Forestry Commission England and Forestry Commission Scotland report directly to their appropriate Minister, advising on policy and its implementation.

Changes in England

The Woodland Policy Enabling Programme (WPEP) was set up in May this year to develop advice to Ministers on the future of forestry in England.

Changes in Wales

A new body, Natural Resources Wales  has taken over the functions previously carried out by Forestry Commission Wales. For a limited period some Natural Resources Wales online services will continue to be provided on this website.

What we do

• Manager – We plant many millions of trees every year, to create new woodland and to replace the trees we harvest. Some of these trees will help to regenerate blighted industrial landscapes such as former coalfield communities and to bring new woodlands closer to urban areas. 

We sustainably harvest almost four million tonnes of wood every year from England and Scotland's public forests. That’s more than a third of total domestic production. This reduces our dependency on imported wood and provides low-carbon materials for the domestic wood-using industries, and for fuel and energy. The income from timber helps to offset the costs of managing the forests in our care.  

As Britain’s largest land manager we are custodian of 900,000 hectares of land including some of our best loved and most spectacular landscapes. Two-thirds of the estate lies within National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

• Protector – The threat to trees from pests and diseases has never been greater. We face losing much-loved species such as oak and horse chestnut. The problem is exacerbated by greater movement of infested or disease-carrying imports and improved conditions due to climate change. Our plant health officers inspect wood imports at ports around the country to minimise the risk from foreign pests and diseases. Where outbreaks do occur our experts work with local authorities and landowners to contain and control any spread. We licence tree felling across England and Scotland to protect our woodlands for generations to come.

• Enabler and supporter – We provide grants, licences and advice to private woodland owners to encourage new tree planting and to help keep private forests and woodland under active and sustainable management. We also work in partnership with a wide range of public bodies, NGOs, small businesses and communities to respond to national, regional and local needs.
• Conservationist – We protect species, improve habitats and protect historical sites. As climate change becomes more complex and challenging we face losing some of our native species. We are leading moves to nurture and protect rare and endangered species such as the red squirrel, the dormouse and the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly. We safeguard the national tree collections at Westonbirt, Bedgebury and Kilmun. These conserve more than 4000 different taxa – making it one of the most comprehensive tree collection in the world – and form just one of the ways that we are increasing the world’s natural resilience for the future.

• Restorer - We take degraded land no one else wants and turn it into green space for the benefit of all. Our pioneering research and on-the-ground experience has proved we can successfully, and economically, transform brownfield sites such as old collieries and factories into usable greenspace. This improves the environment, people’s health and the local economy by restoring places that people want to work, rest and play in.

• Leisure and recreation provider - More people visit a forest than do the seaside. We offer visitors many thousands of waymarked walks and trails, cycle routes and bridle paths, open every day and free of charge. We have more than 140 easy access trails for people with physical difficulties. In many places, the Forestry Commission provides the only local opportunity for quiet and accessible recreation. The millions of visitors contribute almost £2 billion annually to the economy, mostly into rural areas.

Our network of visitor centres provides a unique opportunity to engage with the public. They are an ideal platform to talk to people about climate change, helping them to understand the issues, see directly how climate change is affecting our trees and woods today, what we need to do to help them adapt, and what actions individuals and families can take to make a difference.

How we work

• Having a ‘can do’ approach – The combination of our ‘hands on’ experience of sustainable land management, a strong commercial drive, and a foundation of robust scientific knowledge make us unique within Government. It means that we can develop and deliver policy that works on the ground.

• Taking a long-term view - Forestry is a long-term business. From planting to harvesting a tree for timber takes a minimum of 40 to 50 years – around the same time-scale climate experts have given society to make the changes necessary to avoid runaway climate change. Our foresters must be just as skilled in planning for the longer term as they are for the short one. We must ensure that our forests are adapted to, and can withstand, our changing climate. If Greenhouse gas emissions do not decline, we must consider introducing new species to ensure our forests survive.  In reaching workable solutions we can pull on our substantial research knowledge whilst accepting the need to adapt as knowledge grows.

• Putting sustainability first – Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We set the standards for the sustainable management of the UK’s forests, based on internationally recognised science and best practice.  Britain was the first country in the world to have all its public forests independently certified as being sustainably managed.  We are also committed to implementing ISO14001 Environmental Management System in all parts of our business.

•   Applying sound science – We have world-class scientists and researchers working to understand the science behind the big issues and provide the evidence we need to underpin policy and delivery. As climate change begins to bite, this resource becomes ever more important. Last year we produced the Read report - a ground-breaking study by an independent panel of experts, looking at the role of forests and climate change: what needs to be done; what knowledge we have to do it; and what we still need to learn. This assessment is a world-first and it is already starting to change policy, form new ideas, and raise awareness of the opportunities offered by our trees and forests.

• Doing more with less - Knowing how best to manage our forests and woodland to maximum benefit doesn’t mean we do it all ourselves. 70 per cent of all the operational work in our forests is done by contractors with continuous market testing. This supports SMEs and the wider industry and drives efficiency and competition. We have always worked with centralised specialist and back office functions and we have a programme of reviewing and bench-marking these to ensure we are getting value for money.
We expect our managers at all levels to be fully accountable for their business plans and to seek efficiencies to deliver programmes of a high standard for the minimum cost.

Management structure

Our Board of Commissioners  has duties and powers prescribed by statute. It consisting of a Chair and up to ten other Forestry Commissioners who are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of Ministers.

Our Executive Board assists the Country Directors in the effective management of the Commission by providing leadership and setting direction for the Commission as an organisation.

The Forestry Commission in each country is led by a Director who is also a member of the Board of Commissioners. Delivery of policy,  as well as progress against strategy objectives, are overseen by the National Committee for England and the National Committee for Scotland

The forests in our care are managed by Forest Enterprise agencies on behalf of the Forestry Commission.

Central Services provides a range of common functions and services to all parts of the Organisation. These include:

• cross-border functions, such as: Research, Plant Health, Corporate Governance and specialist advice,

• shared services, such as: Human Resources, Finance and Accounting Services, Information systems and Inventory, Forecasting and Operational Support.

Our Forest Research agency provides high-quality scientific research and surveys, to inform the development of forestry policies and practices, and promote high standards of sustainable forest management.


We employ around 2,400 people, most of whom work in managing the public forests.


Last updated: 28/04/2015

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