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Responding to climate change

Changes in our climate could have in a number of knock-on effects that impact on our trees and woodlands.

Map showing areas of Europe that currently experience the temperature climate Westonbirt may have in 2050 and 2080 under high CO2 emissions climate change scenarios.Most scientists agree that our climate is warming, with scenarios projecting a change of up to 4°C over the next 50 years.

This is likely to affect our weather, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters milder and wetter.

Given the life span of many trees, we need to think carefully about how these changes may impact on different tree species. After all, the saplings we plant today will face new climatic conditions when they are mature in 50 years time.

Troubling times

The impact of climate change on woods and forests could include:

  • disturbance to tree lifecycles; such as trees coming into leaf earlier
  • increased threat from the spread of new pests and diseases; for example milder winters could allow insect pests to extend their range and survive in greater numbers
  • changes in the species composition of our woodlands; certain trees may be unable to adapt to the new climatic conditions such as the increased incidence of drought

Introducing our species trial plots: helping to make our crystal ball better!

Of course there are many uncertainties when it comes to understanding climate change and its possible impacts. To get a clearer picture, we need to grow and monitor real trees over a long time frame and over a wide geographical region.

Working with Forest Research and 11 other institutions along the European Atlantic coast, Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is taking part in a major EU-funded Interreg (inter-regional) project that aims to grow and monitor a range of different tree species that might be important to our future forestry planning.

Pests and diseases

We are concerned that climate changes could result in increasing vulnerability of Westonbirt's tree collection to a variety of pests and diseases.

At Westonbirt, we have developed a bio-security strategy to minimise these risks. This includes precautionary removal of certain high risk species such as Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese larch, quarantining incoming plant material, disinfecting vehicles and tools.

We have also built a wood sterilisation unit that allows us to sterilise our woodchips for use on site.

Last updated: 10th July 2017


Westonbirt Arboretum

0300 067 4890

What's of interest

Find out more about national tree health work undertaken by the Forestry Commission

Climate Change and the Forestry Commission

Find a specific tree using the Westonbirt Interactive Map

Do you have an arboricultural question? Find out who can help here

Related documents

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.