Japanese red cedar, giant redwoods and trees from the continent will replace oaks and pines in Britain’s forests as woodlands must adapt to climate change to survive, a study suggests.
Species of trees grown in the UK in the Victorian era are also set to return as foresters work to ensure Britain’s woods can survive rising temperatures, frequent droughts and diseases.
Experts have warned if nothing is done to change the composition of Britain’s woodlands by 2080, forest production could decrease by more than 40 per cent as current trees struggle to survive.
Scientists at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, and at Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, estimate forests could be reduced by 42 per cent by the 2080s because of climate change.
They studied spruce, pine and oak – which make up 59 per cent of British forests – and found that new species would be needed to maintain woodlands in the future.
Luc Boerboom, assistant professor at the University of Twente, said: “In the Netherlands we have much less forest production than Great Britain. However, we too can expect change: our grandchildren will walk and bike into a different kind of forest than we do now.”
Foresters are being advised to plant more trees that are capable of flourishing in warmer temperatures such as Japanese red cedar and giant redwood trees from America, instead of traditional oaks and spruces.
More varieties of these trees from the continent will be grown, as well as native British trees which have not been planted for the last few hundred years such as Hornbeam, small leaved lime and aspen trees.
Different varieties of oak and pines that exist in the UK will also be planted.
“Trees from the continent are used to surviving higher temperatures and drought,” said John Weir, of the Forestry Commission.
“In Bristol for example we may be looking at the end of the century at weather similar to that in the Loire Valley. The French are very good foresters and we can look to source trees from there.”
Mr Weir said the results of the study, which use the latest climate projections from 2009, underpinned plans for foresters to introduce mor diversity and safeguard Britain’s forest.
He said there will be a ‘migration’ of trees from the south, with species from the continent to be planted in the south east and those from the south coast likely to be introduced in northern parts of the UK.
He said native oaks and spruces will not disappear from Britain’s forests, but different varieties will be used.
He added: “The current oak is not doing very well and we need to look at the range of oak trees available.
“There are a lot of native trees that we stopped using because they were not making money. For example during the war most of the forests in England were oak.”
Mr Weir said Giant Redwoods, which are already planted across the UK, are more likely to be used on the east coast which will become warmer.
“Trees suffer in droughts and do not recover well from a drought,” he said. “There will be hot drier summers and that’s what we have to react to.
“For example the North York Moors are likely to have drier summers, which would not suit spruces in the future. In the South East we might use some of the southern European varieties.
“If nothing is done this will be really bad news.
“We need to stop prevaricating. People will use the uncertainty of climate change to do nothing. Forestry is difficult because we work in such long time scales.
“But we have got to leave resilient forests, and with this knowledge we know how to adapt Britain’s forests and are already taking action.”
Mr Weir said there is also a need to diversify Britain’s forests to ensure trees had the best chance of surviving pests and diseases.
Mr Boerboom said the timing of the study meant foresters could still make a change to ensure the longevity of Britain’s forests.
He said: “Although this study does not provide the complete picture, it is the first time we have quantified risk in Great Britain, on which policy makers and foresters should act.”