Climate change set to hit Thetford Forest

The appearance of Thetford Forest and the region's other woodlands will look radically different in 70 years time as a result of warmer and drier summers, researchers say.

A new report published by the Forestry Commission shows that climate change predictions will result in tougher times for tree species in the east of England in decades to come.

But officials from the government organisation say that woodlands could become more diverse and resilient if managers do what they can now to maximise the ability of forests to cope with change.

The body, which oversees 25,000ha of land in the region, including Thetford Forest - the country's largest lowland pine forest - said climate change was a serious issue for forestry, which will affect tree species and also increase threats from drought and damage by pests, diseases, wind and fire.

Forestry chiefs said that managers needed to adapt to climate change and introduce more drought-tolerant tree species in their woodlands.

The research on the impacts and adaptation in England's woodlands says that forests in the east are likely to experience reduced productivity as a result of severe soil moisture deficits caused by longer, drier and warmer summers.

Climate change will also result in the decline of some conifer and broadleaved tree species between 2050 and 2080. It added that freely draining forest soils in places like Thetford Forest pose difficult species selection questions because many pine trees are currently affected by red-band needle blight.

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However, moderately drought tolerant species that may suit the area in future include, Scots pine, Douglas fir, sweet chestnut, sessile oak, Atlantic cedar, Japanese and Western red cedar, and red oak.

Woodland managers are advised to:

• increase the diversity of native species

• make at least 80pc of a woodland native, although some non-native species from hotter drier parts of Europe may be beneficial

• introduce robust control measures of rising deer and rabbit populations

• also monitor invasive species including grey squirrel, dormouse, rhododendron, laurel, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam.

• develop a fire risk assessment.

John Weir, who is implementing a climate change action plan for the Forestry Commission's 250,000ha of woodland in England, said: 'The trees we plant today will be reaching maturity in 50 to 100 years time, and will be living in a very different climate so there is real urgency for us to act now.'

'To do nothing will put woodlands at risk. The planned adaptation measures we advocate in this research note are likely to reap the greatest rewards, for everyone, in the future.'