Celebrating 100 years of the Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission turns 100 years old this weekend. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, we look at the passing of the Forestry Act and how a century of forestry has helped to shape the British landscape.

100 Years of the Forestry Commission

When was the Forestry Commission founded?

By the end of World War 1, British woodland cover was at an all-time low of just 5 per cent. Forests in the UK had been steadily declining since the Middles Ages but the strain of war during WW1 – especially trench warfare – meant that urgent action was required.

In 1918, the Acland Committee reported to then prime minister, David Lloyd George, that an organisation with state backing would be the most effective way of restoring and restocking the nation’s forests.

On 1 September 1919, the first Forestry Act was introduced. The Act established the Forestry Commission to create state owned woods and forests, and to promote and develop forestry in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales (Gazette issue 31837).

By Christmas 1919, the Forestry Commission planted their first trees at Eggesford Forest in Devon. A combination of beech and larch, the planting was the first of many and signified the start of a new age of forestry in the UK.

How many trees did the Forestry Commission initially plant?

In the decade that followed, more than 138,000 acres of forestry was planted by the organisation across England, Scotland and Wales, and almost 54,000 acres of new woodland was created by private landowners who received grants from the Forestry Commission. By 1929, the public forest estate reached 600,000 acres over 152 forests.

By 1934, the estate grew to 909,000 acres – of which 316,000 were conifer plantation – and in 1935 the first National Forest Park opened in Argyll. The Forestry Commission’s growth was so rapid that by 1939 it was the largest landowner in Britain.

100 Years of the Forestry Commission in Britain

What was the role of the Forestry Commission after World War 2?

However, more turbulent times were ahead as tensions mounted across Europe. The Commission was responsible for drawing up felling plans for the WW2 effort and by the end of the war it’s estimated that approximately a third of available timber had been cut down and used, with the New Forest and Forest of Dean hit the hardest.

In the years that followed the war, the Forestry Commission expanded dramatically to meet the demand of a burgeoning timber trade. Its workforce grew, and more forests were planted. By 1949, a census in Britain concluded that woodland covered a total of 3.64 million acres, which equated to around 6.5 per cent of British land.

In 1956, Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh commemorated the Commission’s one millionth acre planted by each planting a tree at Eggesford Forest in Devon.

By the 60s, the role of the Forestry Commission was evolving, reflecting a growing awareness of public recreation needs and the importance of conservation for wildlife and the environment. As such, the first Landscape Consultant (Dame Sylvia Crowe, Gazette issue 45984) and Wildlife Officer roles were appointed, and in 1964 the public were given unlimited access to public forest estate.

By 1976, the Forestry Commission planted its two millionth tree and a viewpoint was opened in the Forest of Dean to celebrate the feat.

Thanks to the technological revolution and improvements to mechanical equipment, the year 1980 saw more than 2.3 million cubic metres of timber produced, with income exceeding £34 million. This was an increase from 725,000 cubic metres in 1960 and signified the rapid acceleration in the volume of production.

Over time, the Forestry Commission evolved into a multi-faceted organisation. While centred on forestry, it also grew to have huge influences across other areas of society. The Commission’s Forest Research division, for example, continues to influence forestry and land management policies both in the UK and internationally to this day.

Forestry Commission 100 Years

What does the Forestry Commission do today?

The Forestry Commission currently manages the nation's forests, which represents approximately 20% of Britain’s woodland.

The organisation’s environmental and conservation commitments have also gradually strengthened throughout the years and are now at the forefront of forest management.

In 2009, 99 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) on Forestry Commission land were given a rating of favourable. The Commission also works with a range of conservation organisations to help threatened species such as the red squirrel and nightjar.

Recent years have also witnessed an increase in leisure and tourism, with 226 million visitors enjoying the forests per year. As a result, the Commission has developed new walking and mountain bike trails, and offers live music events, cabin stays and wildlife walks. The Forestry Commission is now the largest single provider of outdoor recreation in England.

Crucially, since the Forestry Commission’s inception 100 years ago, forest cover in England has doubled, with forestry contributing £339 million to the economy per year.

Woodland creation continues to be an important role of the Commission, and with the help of the government, the Commission is aiming to achieve 12% forest coverage in Britain by 2060.

How to celebrate 100 years of the Forestry Commission

To celebrate a century of the Forestry Commission, there are plenty of activities going on throughout the year. Alongside commemorative tree plantings and expeditions, there are also several 10k runs taking place across the country, as well as England's largest survey of forest wildlife.

See also

What is a forestry and plant health notice?

Forestry and plant health notices (2005)

Find out more

Celebrating 100 years of forestry (Forestry England)

Images: © Forestry Commission