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UK forests among worst in Europe

BRITAIN has one of the poorest records of protection and management of forests in Europe, according to a World Wide Fund for Nature survey which ranks the United Kingdom 12th out of 15 countries.

WWF has published its own league tables of standards to highlight the crisis facing European forests, which are threatened by air pollution, fires, erosion and deforestation.

Switzerland was top of the class while Britain languished near the bottom, with its forests only considered to be marginally better than those of Spain, Belgium and Denmark.

Dr Steven Howard, WWF UK's senior forests officer, said: "It has taken thousands of years to reduce the UK's forests to their current impoverished state. As the millennium approaches, it is time to reverse the trend of degradation and destruction."

Although Europe's forest cover has been expanding in recent decades, only 2 per cent of its forests can be classified as old growth and the quality of the forests is falling all the time. Almost two-thirds of Europe's forests have already been lost and 98 per cent of the remainder are still unprotected.

The report acknowledged that the British Government has made a public commitment to increase both the area of native woodland and protected areas of forest, but the WWF claims Britain has virtually no natural forests left.

The WWF provides a comparative picture of the status of forests and policies in 15 countries. The report has been issued to coincide with the Third Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, in Lisbon from 2 to 4 June.