With the UN officially designating 2011 as the International Year of Forests, new research* has shown that the British public lacks an understanding of the vital benefits forests bring to the environment and global climate. Unprompted, just one in 10 people in Britain (11%) are able to name the reduction of climate change and carbon capture as a key benefit of forests, while 15% are unable to name any benefit at all.
Forests remain a mystery for many people.
The UN has named 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness of the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests for the benefit of current and future generations.
Results of the research, commissioned by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK), were presented with Earthwatch at a policy round table in January, which was hosted by the former Minister for Biodiversity and the former Special Envoy for Forestry, Barry Gardiner, MP.
Findings showed that beyond the role forests play in providing for wildlife and biodiversity, and leisure and social enjoyment, the public's understanding of the many benefits brought by forests is very limited. When asked to name spontaneously as many benefits as they could, less than one quarter (22%) of respondents recognised that forests provide us with clean air, while only 11% said that forests can help in the battle against climate change. Even fewer recognise the services provided to local eco-systems in terms of reducing flooding, stabilising soils and retaining water (1%).
Dr Martha Crockatt, a forest ecologist from Earthwatch says, "Many people rarely lend much thought to the importance of trees but forests are a vital component of life on earth as we know it. Millions of people rely directly on forests for their livelihoods - for fuel, food and building materials. And we all depend on the ecosystem services they provide - from climate regulation to cleansing the air that we breathe."
Imperative for consumers to recognise certification symbol
Crucially, the certification schemes in place to ensure the responsible management of those forests used for timber and paper products, and that only legal and acceptable sources are used (traceability), are little understood by consumers.
Seven out of ten respondents (71%) say they have not heard of the terms ‘FSC Certified' and ‘PEFC Certified' in relation to paper-based packaging. There is also a large degree of confusion over what these terms could mean: 61% of those who said they had heard of the terms failed to identify their correct meaning from a list of possibilities.
Richard Hands, Chief Executive of ACE UK, comments, "Forests offer a renewable resource for many products, from furniture to drinks cartons. However, if we are to benefit from their timber and wood fibre such forests must be managed responsibly. In doing so, the forests will be a source of enjoyment and resource for many future generations. One way that people can support the UN International Year of Forests is to look for on-pack information, such as the FSC logo, that indicates that the product they are buying, or its packaging, contains responsibly sourced wood from well managed forests."
Addressing the other end of the supply chain, Dave Hillyard, Earthwatch's International Partnerships Director says, "The sustainable management of commercial forests is a business priority. With the support of organisations like Earthwatch, the corporate sector is in a unique position to develop and implement strategies and policies that will ensure the forest resources utilised within supply chains will thrive into the future, and to communicate the importance of sustainable forest management to their customers."
Visit your local forest!
While forests remain popular places for exercise or to relax and enjoy the natural environment, one in four people (27%) say they have not visited a forest or woodland at all within the past five years.
Forests make great places to visit.
Josephine Melville-Smith, Marketing Manager, Forestry Commission says, "Half the population live within six miles of a Forestry Commission forest or woodland, so if you are planning a day trip or holiday then an exploration of one of Britain's forests will provide fun, fresh air and an appreciation of what we have on our own doorstep. Throughout 2011 we have a programme of exciting educational, community and recreational events celebrating the Year of Forests, culminating in a Forest Discovery Day at all of our Forests on September 11th."
For information on local events to celebrate the International Year of the Forests, check the Forestry Commission's website.
* Telephone survey of 500 British adults, weighted to represent the British population. Commissioned by ACE UK through Manor Marketing Consultancy Ltd., conducted from 24th to 29th November 2010 by PH Research Services Ltd. in accordance with Market Research Society Standards.