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Adaptive capacity; biodiversity loss; forest Resilience is increasingly being incorporated into environmental policy at na- ecosystem; multiple stable states; recovery; tional and global scales. Yet resilience is a contested concept, with a wide va- resistance; stability. riety of deﬁnitions proposed in the scientiﬁc literature, and little consensus Correspondence regarding how it should be measured. Consequently, adoption of resilience Adrian C. Newton, Centre for Conservation as a policy goal presents risks to biodiversity conservation, which are consid- Ecology, Environment and Sustainability, ered here in relation to three categories: (1) ambiguity, (2) measurement dif- Faculty of Science and Technology, ﬁculty, and (3) misuse. While policy makers might welcome the ambiguity of Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, resilience as a concept, as it provides ﬂexibility and opportunities to build con- Poole, Dorset BH12 5BB, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1202 965670. sensus, the lack of clear deﬁnitions hinders evaluation of policy effectiveness. E-mail: email@example.com Policy relating to resilience is unlikely to be evidence-based, as monitoring will be difﬁcult to implement. Vague deﬁnitions also provide scope for misuse. This Received is illustrated by the case of European forests, where resilience is being used as a 12 June 2015 justiﬁcation to promote management interventions that will negatively affect Accepted biodiversity. To address these risks, there is a need for standard deﬁnitions and 13 December 2015 measures of resilience to be developed for use in policy. Furthermore, there is Editor a need for guidelines, standards, and identiﬁcation of best practice in relation Michael Mascia to resilience policy, to ensure that its implementation does not contribute to biodiversity loss. doi: 10.1111/conl.12227 ecosystem resilience as one of three main priorities Introduction for action (Natural Resource Management Ministerial The term “resilience” is increasingly being included Council 2010), whereas in the United Kingdom, current among environmental policy goals. At the international environmental policy aims to create “a more resilient scale, resilience is referred to within global policy ini- natural environment for the beneﬁt of wildlife and tiatives such as the Convention on Biological Diversity ourselves” (HM Government 2011). (CBD; Thompson et al. 2009) and the Intergovernmental This rise in popularity of resilience in policy reﬂects Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As illustration, Aichi a current trend in the discourse around responses to Biodiversity Target 15 of the CBD commits signatory environmental change, with a shift from negative terms countries to take action so that by 2020 “ecosystem such as “impacts” and “vulnerability” to terms with more resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon positive associations, such as resilience (McEvoy et al. stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and 2013; Sudmeier-Rieux 2014). While the reasons for restoration” (CBD COP 10 Decision X/2). In relation to this shift are primarily political, the science underpin- climate change, adaptation is considered by the IPCC as a ning resilience and its relationship with environmental means to “build resilience” (IPCC 2014). At the national change are the focus of signiﬁcant debate (McEvoy et al. scale, guiding principles for climate change adaptation 2013). This is illustrated by a recent change in how in the United States suggest that “adaptation should, resilience is being interpreted, developing from its origins where relevant, take into account strategies to increase within ecological science toward a vaguer and more ecosystem resilience” (EPA 2012). Australia’s national ﬂexible concept that is being applied within social and biodiversity conservation strategy identiﬁes building sustainability sciences (Brand & Jax 2007; Olsson et al. Conservation Letters, September/October 2016, 9(5), 369–376 Copyright and Photocopying: 2016 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 369 This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Biodiversity risks of resilience A. C. Newton Table 1 Selected deﬁnitions of resilience that have been proposed in the ecological literature Deﬁnition Source The magnitude of disturbance that can be tolerated before a system moves into a different region of state Carpenter et al. (2001) space and a different set of controls The ability of the system to maintain its identity in the face of internal change and external shocks and Cumming et al. (2005) disturbances Folke et al. (2010) The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure and feedbacks, and therefore identity, that is, the capacity to change in order to maintain the same identity. Returning to the reference state (or dynamic) after a temporary disturbance Grimm & Wissel (1997) Resilience refers to the width or limit of a stability domain and is deﬁned by the magnitude of disturbance that a Gunderson (2000) system can absorb before it changes stable states Resilience determines the persistence of relationships within a system and is a measure of the ability of these Holling (1973) systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables, and parameters, and still persist How fast the variables return toward their equilibrium following a perturbation. Pimm (1984) The ability of the system to return to the original state after a disturbance. Scheffer et al. (2002) Standish et al. (2014) Helpful resilience: Resilience that helps to maintain a predisturbance ecosystem state so that it does not cross a threshold. Unhelpful resilience: Resilience that helps to maintain an ecosystem in a degraded state following a disturbance. The capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function, structure, Walker et al. (2006) feedbacks, and therefore identity The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain Walker et al. (2004) essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks. 2015). It has been suggested that this shift in meaning is idea that ecosystems exist in multiple stable states, with undermining both the conceptual value of resilience and transitions from one state to another potentially occur- its practical application (Brand & Jax 2007). ring as a result of disturbance, is therefore fundamental As a result of these trends, there are biodiversity risks to deﬁnitions of ecological resilience (Gunderson 2000). associated with including resilience among environmen- However, a variety of different deﬁnitions of ecological tal policy goals. Here, I identify three types of risk: (1) resilience have been proposed, focusing variously on the ambiguity, (2) measurement difﬁculty, and (3) misuse. amount of disturbance an ecosystem can absorb before it These are considered in relation to their potential impacts changes state, the ability to return to an original state af- on biodiversity conservation. ter disturbance, the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, and the capacity for reorganization and adaptation (Brand & Jax 2007; Table 1). Risk of ambiguity Many authors have commented on the problems asso- ciated with this semantic uncertainty (Brand & Jax 2007; In an ecological context, resilience was originally deﬁned Standish et al. 2014). Notably, it creates confusion among by Holling (1973) as a measure of the ability of ecosys- researchers and undermines scientiﬁc quality. This is il- tems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables lustrated by Myers-Smith et al. (2012), who found in a re- and parameters, and still persist. A large number of alter- view of 234 publications referring to resilience that 66% native deﬁnitions of resilience have subsequently been of studies did not identify which deﬁnition they applied. proposed (Table 1). For example, Grimm & Wissel (1997) Given the large number of available deﬁnitions, this im- reported 17 different deﬁnitions of resilience in the scien- precision limits interpretation of research results and hin- tiﬁc literature, whereas Brand & Jax (2007) identiﬁed 10 ders cross-study comparisons (Myers-Smith et al. 2012). different deﬁnitions, grouped into three main categories. This review also highlighted a widespread mismatch be- Key differences between deﬁnitions relate to whether tween the deﬁnitions stated in scientiﬁc publications and a system is believed to return to an equilibrium point those presented in supporting citations, together with following a disturbance event (Pimm 1984), as in deﬁni- frequent misapplication of resilience concepts. Speciﬁ- tions of “engineering resilience” and “recovery” (Standish cally, while deﬁnitions of ecological resilience were most et al. 2014). Alternative deﬁnitions, often referred to as widely cited, most studies examined resilience in relation “ecological resilience” (Gunderson 2000), are based on a to continuous rather than discrete types of disturbance. conception of ecosystems existing far from an equilibrium Yet deﬁnitions of ecological resilience are not suitable for state, and the possibility of shifting to another stable state quantifying responses to ongoing (“press”) disturbances in response to a perturbation (Brand & Jax 2007). The 370 Conservation Letters, September/October 2016, 9(5), 369–376 Copyright and Photocopying: 2016 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. A. C. Newton Biodiversity risks of resilience such as climate change, which were the focus of 31% depends on integration of management with robust of studies in this review (Myers-Smith et al. 2012). monitoring approaches, so that the effectiveness of Furthermore, the theory of multiple stable states that interventions can be evaluated (Morecroft et al. 2012). that underlies deﬁnitions of ecological resilience only A lack of consensus regarding how resilience should be relates to discrete (“pulse”) disturbances, and is there- deﬁned hinders the application of such approaches, by fore not appropriate for quantifying responses to press creating uncertainty regarding how resilience might best disturbances (Connell & Sousa 1983; Petraitis 2013). be measured and evaluated. Ambiguity in the meaning of resilience as a scientiﬁc In principle, engineering resilience can be measured concept hinders its application both in policy and in man- as the inverse of the return time, or the time needed agement practice (Brand & Jax 2007). As use of the term following disturbance to return to the original state of the resilience has extended from ecological science to other system. Such analyses can be performed using modeling disciplines, such as economics, political science, and sus- approaches such as individual-based models, cellular tainability science, its meaning has broadened to repre- automata, and differential equation models (Grimm sent a particular perspective or paradigm, incorporating & Calabrese 2011). In contrast, ecological resilience elements such as social learning, leadership, and adaptive is difﬁcult to quantify or to formalize mathematically governance (Brand & Jax 2007; Olsson et al. 2015). Ac- (Grimm & Calabrese 2011). As a result, it is unclear cording to Klein et al. (2003), the deﬁnition of resilience how to directly measure ecological resilience or to has now become so broad that it has been rendered “al- identify the underlying mechanisms. Holling (1973) pro- most meaningless.” This presents a challenge to policy posed two resilience measures of an ecological system, implementation, as conceptual clarity is needed to opera- namely the overall area of the domain of attraction and tionalize any policy concept. Without a common frame of the height of the lowest point of the basin of attraction reference, different stakeholders will often talk at cross- above equilibrium. In the context of social-ecological purposes, perhaps without even realizing it (McEvoy et al. systems, a variety of approaches have been proposed, 2013). Despite the fact that resilience has become a goal including the use of indirect proxies such as histor- of many development policies at both national and inter- ical proﬁling, stakeholder assessments and scenarios national scales, there is little guidance available regarding (Carpenter et al. 2005; Cumming et al. 2005). what resilience is or how to increase it (Sudmeier-Rieux In a recent review, Standish et al. (2014) summarized 2014). It has consequently been labeled as a “fuzzword,” available approaches for measuring ecological resilience meaning all things to all people (Tanner et al. 2015). in the context of biodiversity conservation, focusing on A further issue is whether resilience is always ben- the location of thresholds of disturbance associated with eﬁcial. In a development context, social scientists have switches between ecosystem states. Potentially, this can criticized the adoption of resilience as a policy goal, as it be achieved by experimentation or through the use of focuses on supporting the process of recovery rather than observational data. However, robust experimental evi- addressing the root causes of the vulnerability of human dence of multiple stable states is lacking, particularly in communities to environmental change (Sudmeier-Rieux ﬁeld situations (Petraitis 2013), and observational studies 2014). Similar criticisms can be raised in the context of are limited by being correlative in nature (Standish et al. environmental policy, with a focus on resilience poten- 2014). To demonstrate the existence of multiple stable tially shifting attention away from the root causes of bio- states, studies must involve a pulse perturbation, be diversity loss. Furthermore, in a social context, increased conducted at a single site, demonstrate that two or more resilience does not necessarily coincide with a decrease different communities can occur in that same site, and in vulnerability or risk (Sudmeier-Rieux 2014; Olsson demonstrate that the communities are stable (Petraitis et al. 2015). Similarly, in a biodiversity context, degraded 2013). These conditions are very difﬁcult to meet in ecosystems can have greater resilience to disturbance practice, particularly in relation to the demonstration of than those that have been less degraded (Standish et al. stability. The lack of robust supporting evidence under- 2014), suggesting that increased resilience could actually mines the value of ecological resilience as an operational be associated with biodiversity loss in some situations. scientiﬁc concept, a problem that is compounded by a lack of clarity about what the appropriate units are for measuring resilience (Petraitis 2013). Furthermore, Risk of measurement difﬁculty the suggestion that resilience can be measured through It is now widely recognized that conservation policy analysis of thresholds (Standish et al. 2014) is based and management should be evidence-based, drawing on a misconception that such thresholds are always upon the systematic compilation and analysis of available a part of systems with multiple stable states (Petraitis evidence. It is also recognized that effective conservation 2013). Conservation Letters, September/October 2016, 9(5), 369–376 Copyright and Photocopying: 2016 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 371 Biodiversity risks of resilience A. C. Newton As a result, there is a risk that resilience could be used Risk of misuse by political actors to justify or promote particular man- The lack of consensus regarding how resilience should agement plans or policies (Olsson et al. 2015), which be deﬁned and measured creates a number of additional could potentially result in deleterious impacts on biodi- challenges to policy implementation. These can usefully versity. I illustrate this risk with reference to the particu- be illustrated by reference to the concept of “sustainable lar case of forest management in Europe, although similar development,” which resilience is arguably replacing as a issues might be anticipated in other ecosystem types and focus of policy dialogue (Sudmeier-Rieux 2014). Despite in other locations. In an article entitled “Five steps for being the focus of international attention for more than managing Europe’s forests,” Fares et al. (2015) provide an three decades, sustainable development remains a highly overview of how they believe European forest managers contested concept, both in terms of its deﬁnition and how should increase forest resilience in relation to threats in- it should be implemented (Newton & Cantarello 2014). cluding climate change, development of infrastructure, It provides an example of a “constructively ambiguous” pollution, and the spread of pests and diseases. Speciﬁ- term, a type that is often welcomed by politicians be- cally, they recommend planting “resilient tree species,” cause such deliberate ambiguity can be used to build namely those with wide climatic tolerance, and use of agreement on sensitive issues and achieve superﬁcial genetic material from more southern populations; use of consensus (Moore 2011; Robinson 2004). However, silvicultural approaches to promote “the most resilient vague deﬁnitions also provide scope for misuse. This is species,” including thinning to encourage new growth illustrated by the widespread occurrence of “greenwash,” and carbon storage capacity; the selection and deploy- whereby uncertainty surrounding the term “sustain- ment of clones that are resistant to pests and diseases; able” is exploited by organizations seeking to mislead and the introduction of payments for ecosystem services. people regarding their environmental practices, or the As noted in subsequent responses to Fares et al. (Bruun environmental beneﬁts of the products that they offer et al. 2015; Jonsson et al. 2015), these recommendations (Newton & Cantarello 2014). Other criticisms that have represent a worldview in which the value of forests is been levied at sustainable development associated with primarily believed to reside in their economic value as a its ambiguity are that it encourages a focus on the wrong source of marketable goods and services, notably timber. issues, deﬂecting attention away from key underlying This overlooks the high biodiversity value of many nat- factors such as power and exploitation (Robinson 2004); ural forest ecosystems (Lindenmayer 2009). These rec- that it fosters illusions and obscures key trade-offs that ommendations run counter to biodiversity conservation need to be made (Moore 2011); and that it has been used guidelines (e.g., Lindenmayer et al. 2006) and would to promote a development agenda that is demonstrably undermine efforts to meet policy commitments such as not sustainable (Sneddon et al. 2006). the CBD Aichi Targets and the European Union’s 2020 Similar concerns can be levied at the concept of re- target for halting biodiversity loss. For example, estab- silience. As the meaning of resilience has broadened with lishment of productive, pest- and disease-tolerant tree its incorporation into policy, it has become increasingly species or genotypes would be at the expense of na- vague, while at the same time it is being used to provide tive woody species and the many species that depend on justiﬁcation for a variety of different policies, interven- them (Bruun et al. 2015). Introduction of genetic material tions, and practices (Olsson et al. 2015). It shares with sus- from more southern populations represents a form of ge- tainable development a tendency to ignore issues such as netic pollution, which could reduce the evolutionary ﬁt- power and conﬂict, which are key factors shaping social ness of locally adapted native tree populations (Koskela interactions (Tanner et al. 2015); it is also being used to et al. 2014). Management interventions to promote car- promote a particular political agenda, namely neoliberal bon storage, such as thinning or shorter rotations, would economics (Olsson et al. 2015). The problems associated endanger old-growth forests and veteran trees, and could with incorporation of resilience into policy are illustrated destroy the habitat characteristics that underlie their by the fact that such use is almost always normative; in exceptional importance for biodiversity conservation other words, in policy resilience is implicitly considered (Bruun et al. 2015; Jonsson et al. 2015). Such recommen- to be a “good thing” (Olsson et al. 2015; Tanner et al. dations highlight the fact that forestry practices can rep- 2015). Yet in the context of biodiversity conservation, resent a major threat to forest biodiversity (Lindenmayer resilience can also clearly be “unhelpful,” for example, in et al. 2006; Lindenmayer 2009). Those management prac- situations where degraded or altered ecosystems do not tices that preserve natural ecosystem processes are likely readily return to a predisturbance state without some to be more effective in supporting forest biodiversity and form of management intervention (Standish et al. 2014). resilience (Kuuluvainen & Grenfell 2012; Jonsson et al. 372 Conservation Letters, September/October 2016, 9(5), 369–376 Copyright and Photocopying: 2016 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. A. C. Newton Biodiversity risks of resilience Table 2 Selected recommendations provided by the Forestry Commis- 2003). Such guidance also runs counter to the progress sion, England, for “adapting England’s woodlands to be more resilient” made over the past 40 years in recognizing the ecological (Forestry Commission 2015) history and exceptional biodiversity value of ancient native woodlands, which can be destroyed by planting Broadleaved woodland should be managed to maximize the crops’ value by balancing quality and timber yield exotic tree species within them (Rackham 2003). Planting material should be sourced from improved stands, where available or appropriate. Conclusions It will be important to intervene frequently to promote adaptation through planting or to encourage natural regeneration and Resilience has undoubted value as a scientiﬁc concept. evolutionary adaptation. The ability of ecosystems to tolerate and recover from New and regenerated woodlands’ genetic variability should be disturbance represents a genuine phenomenon, which is enhanced by including local provenance and others from up to 5° south. vitally important to understand. Together with associated Opportunities should be taken to diversify the species mix within concepts such as stability, resilience has stimulated much woodlands. This will include planting native species outside valuable research that has provided new insights into the their natural range in the north and west. ecological processes inﬂuencing ecosystem persistence Most of the species in England’s native woodland occupy a wide and recovery (Dornelas 2010). Furthermore, controversy climatic range across Europe, as these species distribution and debate are elements of a healthy scientiﬁc discourse, maps show. This makes it possible to use origins that are and should therefore be welcomed. However, the exam- better adapted to England’s future climate. Broadleaved species new to forests in England should be ple of resilience highlights the problems that can arise considered as a component of the planting design, particularly when a contested or ambiguous scientiﬁc concept is in the south and east. For example, more sweet chestnut and translated into policy. other broadleaved species from the near continent can be The increasing popularity of resilience among policy used to take advantage of the changing climate. makers is understandable, given that it offers a posi- These recommendations refer explicitly to native and ancient woodland. tive narrative around coping with future environmen- tal change. At the same time, uncertainty regarding how resilience should be deﬁned and assessed provides pol- 2015). Yet such practices are not universally being advo- icy makers with room for maneuver. In relation to bio- cated by policy makers aiming to deliver resilience. diversity conservation, however, a policy on resilience Recommendations similar to those proposed by Fares may be counterproductive, by encouraging a focus on et al. (2015) are already being applied in practice. For adaptation to anthropogenic disturbance rather than ad- example, in England, ofﬁcial guidance that has been dressing the root causes of biodiversity loss. Even pro- explicitly designed to strengthen the resilience of native ponents of resilience (Biggs et al. 2012) recognize that and ancient woodland ecosystems similarly focuses traditional, evidence-based approaches are difﬁcult to ap- primarily on management for timber. In a policy state- ply to policy concepts that are so ambiguous. As a result ment entitled “Adapting England’s woodlands to be of this semantic uncertainty, it will be difﬁcult to evalu- more resilient,” Forestry Commission (2015) include the ate the effectiveness of any policy designed to strengthen use of genetically improved planting stock; management resilience. Furthermore, there is no consensus regarding interventions involving planting tree species outside their how the concept of resilience should be translated into natural ranges; and the introduction of both non-native practice, which is creating confusion among practitioners seed origins and non-native species to increase genetic (Biggs et al. 2012; Morecroft et al. 2012). variability and species richness (Table 2). This provides an As a result of its ambiguity, resilience is a concept that example of how resilience to climate change is being used is open to misuse (Olsson et al. 2015). The concept is cur- as a pretext to promote pro-timber forest management, rently being used to promote or justify interventions that typical of traditional forestry practice, rather than focus- will contribute to biodiversity loss. This is illustrated here ing on biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, resilience by reference to the example of forest ecosystems. The is being used to justify management interventions in establishment of plantations of non-native tree species forest ecosystems of high value for biodiversity con- and genotypes in native woodlands is being widely servation, such as ancient woodland, including their recommended as a way of increasing forest resilience conversion to plantations of non-native species (Table 2). (Thompson et al. 2009; Fares et al. 2015), even by con- This runs the risk of returning to a situation that prevailed servation agencies (Morecroft et al. 2012). Given that during much of the 20th century, when forestry practices higher numbers of species are associated with native prioritizing timber management were one of the main tree species than exotics (Kennedy & Southwood 1984; causes of biodiversity loss in UK woodlands (Rackham Newton & Haigh 1998), such approaches will lead to a Conservation Letters, September/October 2016, 9(5), 369–376 Copyright and Photocopying: 2016 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 373 Biodiversity risks of resilience A. C. Newton loss of biodiversity. The fact that such potential problems to ensure that its use does not contribute to biodiversity might not be limited to forest ecosystems is illustrated by loss. the broader controversy surrounding assisted migration of species as an approach for addressing climate change Acknowledgments (Hewitt et al. 2011). This research is funded by NERC via the Biodiversity & The example of forest ecosystems presented here rep- Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) program. Project resents a form of policy conﬂict, arising when the value of ref. NE/K01322X/1. The opinions and views expressed an ecosystem service (such as timber) is accorded higher here do not necessarily represent those of the main value than biodiversity. Risks of such conﬂicts have been BESS program and its directorate. The comments of three highlighted previously for a range of ecosystem services, anonymous referees and Prof. Volker Grimm are grate- including carbon storage (Putz & Redford 2009) and food fully acknowledged. production (Ingram et al. 2012). Policy conﬂicts are not an inevitable result of adopting resilience as a policy goal, but are facilitated by the lack of consensus on how References resilience should be deﬁned and measured. Biggs, R., Schluter, ¨ M., Biggs, D., et al. (2012). Towards Part of the solution to the risks identiﬁed here is there- principles for enhancing the resilience of ecosystem fore for both researchers and policy makers to clearly services. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour., 37, 421-448. communicate the deﬁnition of resilience that they are Brand, F.S. & Jax, K. (2007). Focusing the meaning(s) of using (Myers-Smith et al. 2012). Ideally, a consensus resilience: resilience as a descriptive concept and a would be reached regarding an appropriate deﬁnition of boundary object. Ecol. Soc., 12(1), 23 [online] resilience. International processes such as the CBD and http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss1/art23/. IPBES could usefully play a leading role in establishing Accessed June 10, 2015. an agreed deﬁnition of resilience for use in environmen- Bruun, H.H., Heilmann-Clausen, J. & Ejrnaes, R. (2015). tal policy. Agreement is also required on how resilience Forests: see the trees and the wood. 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Adoption of resilience as a policy 2015). goal should not be allowed to justify interventions that Fares, S., Mugnozza, G.S., Corona, P. & Palah´ı, M. (2015). will have a negative impact on biodiversity. This could Five steps for managing Europe’s forests. Nature, 519, be achieved through the development of guidelines, 407-409. standards, or identiﬁcation of best practice in relation to Folke, C., Carpenter, S.R., Walker, B., et al. (2010). Resilience implementation of resilience policy, as exempliﬁed by thinking: integrating resilience, adaptability and previous initiatives undertaken in relation to sustainable transformability. Ecol. Soc., 15(4), 20 [online] development. Again, international policy fora could http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art20/. usefully take a leading role in this area. In the absence Accessed June 10, 2015. of such guidance, there is a need for vigilance among the Forestry Commission (2015). 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