"Consensual" UK forest certificate launched

Sustainable woodlands scheme commands wide support from producers, buyers, NGOs

Producers and users of British forest products have formally launched a forest management audit scheme which they hope will lead to a massive increase in the certification of sustainably produced timber. The UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) is backed by stakeholders from all sides - including public and private sector forest owners, a group of major retailers and the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature. The state-owned Forestry Commission claimed the scheme was the first time anywhere in the world that such a broad consensus had been reached on forestry performance standards and that it could act as a model for other countries to follow.

The voluntary scheme sets a list of criteria that prospective UKWAS-compliant forest owners must follow. Their performance would then be audited by a certification body which may or may not be registered with the international timber ecolabel scheme the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). If it is then wood products from the owners will gain the right to be marked with the FSC logo.

But the UK scheme is not exclusively linked to the FSC, and UKWAS-certified forests could seek to use other ecolabels, such as the Pan-European Forest Certification Scheme currently being developed by European forest owners, many of whom oppose the FSC.

The scheme was welcomed by DIY store B&Q which is a member of the so-called 95+ group of retailers which have promised to strive to source 100% of their timber products sold in the UK from FSC sources by 2000. Alan Knight, B&Q's environment controller said that if different ecolabels take off in other countries where its products are sold, the UKWAS standard could be used to acquire that label. "This standard gives us the flexibility we need. If there is demand for a particular label from a particular market, we need to satisfy that."

WWF, which promotes the FSC, said it expected UKWAS to result in a massive leap in the proportion of UK-produced timber carrying the international label from 1% to 75% - the highest percentage of FSC timber anywhere in the world.

EED Matthew of WWF UK said the UK scheme had commanded "unprecedented support from all stakeholders in the forestry industry." He said it should serve as an example for other parts of the world. "WWF is trying to set up buyers' groups around the world," he said. "We want [the UK system] to be replicated around the world now we have a model to work from."

Follow Up:
UK Forestry Commission, tel: +44 131 314 6367; WWF UK, tel: + 44 1483 426 444.

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