Farm Ireland

Thursday 27 October 2016

Learning from the UK experience

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

It is worthwhile to have a closer look at how group certification operates in the UK.

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Tilhill Forestry's certification and assurance manager Ewan McIntosh said that of the total UK forest area of 2.9 million hectares, some 1.6 million ha are certified. All of the state forests at 1.1 million ha are certified while 60pc of private forests or 0.5 million ha are certified. One group scheme covers more than 100,000 ha while another five group schemes have a certified area of over 10,000 ha each.

Mr McIntosh made the point that the UK is a small market place. This makes group certification schemes an effective model because of the economies of scale involved and the advantages of knowledge sharing.

The UK Woodland Assurance Standard called 'UKWAS' for short was launched in 1999. It is an independent certification standard for sustainable forest management meeting the requirements of both the PEFC and FSC schemes. UKWAS is a not-for-profit company, established by stakeholder members with a board and steering group. The standard is reviewed and revised every five years.

"Retaining a good economic, social and environmental balance is very important," he said.

The UK Woodland Assurance Standard is made up of eight sections covering a wide range of topics such as compliance with the law, woodland design, biodiversity and the forestry workforce. UKWAS operates a 'tick list' with 89 requirements. "It sounds like a lot but they cover all sins," said Mr McIntosh.

Tilhill's Group Scheme was launched in 1999 and currently covers 215,000 ha with another 20,000 ha in the pipeline. They offer two types of membership. 'Resource Managed' membership means that these 270 forests or 95,000 ha are managed by Tilhill. 'Group' memberships consist of 75 forests with a total area of 120,000 ha but are not managed by Tilhill.

Tilhill's Group Scheme has an annual production of 1.6 million

tonnes of (UKWAS) certified timber. Some 160 audits are scheduled for 2016. This work is carried out by a team of eleven internal auditors.

All new members go through the same Acceptance Audit (AA). Acceptance audits tend to take about a day: one third in the office and two thirds out in the forest. A 'Group' member will receive an annual surveillance audit to ensure ongoing compliance while a 'Resource Managed' member will be audited every five years after the Acceptance Audit. Mr McIntosh stressed that "the internal auditors are trained to seek evidence of compliance, not evidence of failure."

Tilhill's initial Acceptance Audit is the most comprehensive audit to take place. Where a major Corrective Action Request (CAR) has been identified, this major CAR needs to be resolved before certification can take place. Recertification is required every five years and also provides an opportunity to review performance and to look forward to the next five years.

"It is important to remember that this is a voluntary standard. We are not the police.

"Audits focus heavily on support as well as compliance. We provide a service."

He outlined the strengths and the weaknesses of group schemes.

Strengths include that there is a dedicated certification manager in place and that group schemes encourage knowledge sharing. There is also strength in numbers providing important economies of scale while reducing auditing costs.

Weaknesses of group certification include that the group is audited as a single entity and that the group is only as strong as the weakest member.

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