Forests are increasingly being relied on to provide a sustainable future for the planet and are vital for achieving many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. An increasing use of timber is looked on as the best solution for a low carbon future. The benefits to individuals spending time within forests are now widely acknowledged, and many of the world’s poorest people rely heavily on trees and forests for their livelihoods.
Understanding of the influence of forests on the wider environment, including their role in combating climate change, safeguarding biodiversity and protecting water catchments, is increasing. Although the level of deforestation and forest degradation is falling, it is still too high – with a net loss, worldwide, of 3.3 million hectares per year. At a time when the importance of forests has never been so widely recognised, where do professional foresters fit in? How can they best use their skills and expertise to address these global challenges? Will young British foresters even have the chance to continue to influence forestry globally?
Although we are a small island, the UK has a surprising influence on the global forestry stage. We are one of the largest net importers of timber. We also import other products, such as palm oil and soya, which are driving deforestation. This means that we influence forests far beyond our shores. Meanwhile, we are also one of the biggest donors of forest-related development assistance, and some of our world renowned institutions and experts continue to play a major part in shaping the future for the world’s forests.