An investigation is currently under way examining how forestry should be run over the long term in forests managed by foundations connected to Uppsala University. How the forests are managed involves a complicated conflict of aims, says Anne Ramberg, chair of the University Board. Photo: Micke Lundström.2022-05-31
Forestry under investigation
Uppsala University and Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds (UAF) are being criticised in the media as well as internally for how the latter is managing its forest holdings. For this reason, an investigation is currently under way into how forestry should be managed in the future. We have interviewed the chair of the University Board, Anne Ramberg, in connection with the story.
During the spring, newspapers including Upsala Nya Tidning published articles about how UAF and Uppsala University are managing their forest holdings. The criticism is broadly that the University, with its research in areas such as biodiversity, should be leading the way and using a more sustainable system of forestry for its own forest holdings. According to the critics, insufficient environmental consideration is being given to biodiversity, and this jeopardises the University’s credibility since sustainability is one of the University’s key issues.
How does the chair of the University Board view the situation?
“It’s an issue I take extremely seriously but one I also welcome. How the forests are managed involves a complicated conflict of aims – not just for Uppsala University but for society as a whole. Swedish forestry policy and its impact on society’s sustainability targets is a particularly relevant issue in society right now. There are many interests that need to be taken into account, from the climate perspective and biodiversity to environmental, social, aesthetic and economic considerations, and not least respect for the University’s standing.
“However, taking a position that entails abandoning the long-applied clear-cutting method and transition to non-clear-cutting forestry requires careful analysis. Everyone is probably in agreement that non-clear-cutting forestry is aesthetically more pleasing than clear-cutting, and that it is likely to promote recreation. Non-clear-cutting forestry also generally entails a more gentle method of managing the forest, which in turn benefits diversity. These arguments are countered by the interest in rational forestry and economic considerations. Difficult trade-offs need to be made, and a factually-based decision must be preceded by a detailed investigation and survey of all relevant interests.”
How has the University Board managed the issue so far?
“In connection with criticism from the well-established and highly respected researchers at the University, the issue has been discussed at several meetings with the Foundations’ administration, which bears ultimate responsibility for the general focus and principles of the UAF’s activities. In its capacity as the Foundations’ administration, the University Board has requested that the UAF and its board, which manages day-to-day management of the Foundations, respond to the researchers’ criticism, and the UAF has decided to gather viewpoints from external experts.”
What form will the process take moving forward?
“The statement from the UAF will be submitted to the University Board after the summer. Following this, we will speak to the researchers who have criticised the forestry management to get their views on the investigation. There may then be a need for a further investigation, after which a decision will be taken about the Foundations’ long-term forestry.”
What is your view of the public criticism conveyed in the media?
“I don’t have a view about that. Everyone has freedom of expression, which contributes to a democratic debate. It is particularly important for such debates to be free and wide-ranging at a university, as a silent university is no university at all. The media have a responsibility to highlight these issues, and Uppsala University is one of the largest forest owners in the country through its associated foundations.”
The debate has seen claims that the University and University Board neither have confidence in nor trust their own researchers. Does the University Board trust the researchers?
“That is an assertion that lacks any grounding in reality and one I strongly object to. The Board’s handling of researchers’ requests speaks to the contrary; that the Board in fact takes the researchers’ information extremely seriously. That the Board did not accommodate the researchers’ original preference to immediately cease the planned clear-cutting straight away can be explained by the fact that this cannot be done without extensive planning and necessary notice. The Board has a responsibility to produce a thorough basis for any future decisions, and this entails a range of aspects and an impact assessment.
“At a meeting with the researchers and UAF in mid-May, the researchers also modified their request to the Board to take a decision in principle as soon as possible, to the effect that the objective should be for UAF's forest-clearing to be converted to continuity forestry.”
How do you feel the University Board has managed the issue?
“The Board has managed the issue in the only way possible. We discussed the letter on the Board without delay and immediately decided to take steps to collect statements from those who were experts on the issue and those who are responsible for forestry. The researchers’ request entails a huge measure that makes it incumbent upon the University Board to produce a suitable basis upon which to take decisions.”
The discussion has also particularly focused on felling in the forested area close to the city, the Hågadalen-Nåsten nature reserve. What is happening with that issue?
“ In 2021 UAF was planning some felling but this was cancelled in connection with the discussion that then arose. Conversations are currently under way between Uppsala municipality in its capacity as the reserve’s manager and UAF about how the nature reserve should be managed in the future.”
Do you have confidence in UAF’s method of managing the forests?
“Yes, I do. UAF is a major forest owner and this entails particular demands. UAF follows accepted forestry practices in the same way that, dare I say it, the overwhelming majority of major forest owners do, which in itself does not mean there is never a need for change. UAF has been certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) since 2007. The FSC and PEFC are the two globally leading systems, and activities are reviewed annually by impartial certification programmes. These certifications take environmental, social and economic interests into account, as well as working conditions.
“UAF has also drawn up a sustainability strategy, the most recent version of which was adopted in 2022. Part of the strategy is to increase carbon sequestration; 33,000,000 tonnes are currently being stored and this stock is increasing by 52,000 tonnes per year, with felling never exceeding annual growth.”
UAF also manages agriculture and properties and has a financial portfolio. How do you think UAF is working on sustainability in these areas?
“In my view, the sustainability efforts in the various areas are ambitious. UAF has a sustainability policy covering all activities that aims to produce financial, environmental and social sustainability. Only fossil-free investments are permitted in the financial management, for example.”
A recent inventory conducted by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation shows there are many threatened species in UAF’s forests. What is your view of this? Why are the forests not entirely exempted from felling?
“The idea that all forest should be exempted from felling is not realistic. On the other hand, measures should be taken to ensure that threatened species are not affected by forestry. For this reason, the Government tasked the Society for Nature Conservation and the Swedish Forestry Agency in April with a sustainable forestry assignment that aims to help all those who work in forestry to take individual species into account while maintaining economic viability. We are looking forward to the results of this investigation. (Results are to be reported by 30 September 2023 at the latest).”
Facts about Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds (UAF)
UAF manages donations and foundations connected to Uppsala University. When a foundation is established, a deed of foundation is written that governs how the donation is to be used and managed. The fundamental task of UAF is to manage both physical and financial assets to safeguard and increase the foundations’ capital over the long term. A portion of the surplus is distributed via the foundations for the purposes that each donor has specified in the deed of foundation.
UAF currently manages some 600 foundations with a market value of around SEK 15.7 billion. The largest foundation managed by UAF is the Gustavianska foundation, which originates from a donation made by Gustav II Adolf, who donated over 300 pieces of land and a range of fixed assets in 1624. The Gustavianska foundation has a value of some SEK 5.4 billion.
UAF is divided into four administrative parts: agriculture, forest, property and financial management.
The entire forest holdings are valued at around SEK 3.6 billion, while the property holdings are worth approximately SEK 4.9 billion and the financial assets around SEK 5.6 billion. UAF is Sweden’s largest manager of agricultural assets, with agricultural land worth at around SEK 1.6 billion.
Fifteenth largest land owner
In 2017 UAF was the fifteenth largest land owner in Sweden and the largest land owner in Uppsala municipality. The land holdings amount to around 70,000 hectares, of which 55,000 are forest and 15,000 are agricultural land. Out of the total forest area, some 48,000 hectares are estimated to be productive forest land.
In 2021 income from all foundations totalled SEK 404 million, of which SEK 94 million were returned to the Foundation’s restricted capital and SEK 288 million were distributed to the foundations’ purposes linked to the University’s activities.
UAF has previously been criticised for the fact that its financial management is not fossil-free. However, since 2016 UAF has solely made fossil-free investments.
UAF is a limited partnership in which foundations with a connection to Uppsala University have financial responsibility.
The University Board is also the board of the foundations connected to Uppsala University. In turn, the Board appoints a board for the ongoing work at UAF.
The construction whereby the foundation administration is brought together under a limited partnership, which in turn is governed by a board of the foundations connected to Uppsala University, was created to safeguard the foundations’ assets during a period in which more and more assets were being subsumed by the government.
This construction is unique to Uppsala University. At other higher education institutions in Sweden, foundation management is often conducted at the institution’s financial management department or equivalent.
Foundations and limited partnerships are usually not subject to the principle of public access like public authorities. However, all foundations are subject to the supervision of the County Administrative Board and UAF is reviewed by external auditors.