These hunting forests were not necessarily wooded much, if at all. However, as hunting forests did often include considerable areas of woodland, the word "forest" eventually came to mean wooded land more generally. By the start of the 14th century, the word appeared in English texts, indicating all three senses: the most common one, the legal term and the archaic usage. Other terms used to mean "an area with a high density of trees" are and . Unlike , these are all derived from Old English and were not borrowed from another language. Some classifications now reserve the term for an area with more open space between trees and distinguish among woodlands, , and based on .
The word comes from , from (also ) "forest, vast expanse covered by trees"; first introduced in English as the word for wild land set aside for hunting without the necessity in definition for the existence of trees. Possibly a borrowing (probably via or ) of the word "open wood", was first used by scribes in the Capitularies of to refer specifically to the king's royal hunting grounds. The term was not endemic to Romance languages (e.g. native words for "forest" in the Romance languages evolved out of the word "forest, wood" (English ); cf. Italian, Spanish, Portuguese ; Romanian ; Old French ); and cognates in Romance languages, such as Italian , Spanish and Portuguese , etc. are all ultimately borrowings of the French word.
In 2010, the reported that world deforestation, mainly the conversion of tropical forests to agricultural land, had decreased over the past ten years but still continues at a high rate in many countries. Globally, around 13 million hectares of forests were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year between 2000 and 2010 as compared to around 16 million hectares per year during the 1990s. The study covered 233 countries and areas. Brazil and Indonesia, which had the highest loss of forests in the 1990s, have significantly reduced their deforestation rates. China instituted a ban on logging, beginning in 1998, due to the erosion and flooding that it caused. In addition, ambitious tree planting programmes in countries such as China, India, the United States and Vietnam - combined with natural expansion of forests in some regions - have added more than seven million hectares of new forests annually. As a result, the net loss of forest area was reduced to 5.2 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, down from 8.3 million hectares annually in the 1990s. In 2015, a study for showed that the trend has recently been reversed, leading to an "overall gain" in global biomass and forests. This gain is due especially to reforestation in China and Russia. However new forests are not completely equivalent to old growth forests in terms of species diversity, resilience and carbon capture. On September 7, 2015, the released a new study stating that, over the last 25 years, the global rate has decreased by 50% due to improved and greater government protection.