As a woodland grows and re-seeds itself it feeds on CO2, turning it into wood and oxygen. Some of that trapped carbon sneaks back into the atmosphere from the old dying trees, but on balance a permanent woodland traps a considerable net amount of CO2. Our schemes are mostly based on permanent native woodlands, but even if you were to use that wood for furniture or roof trusses, the original trapped CO2 would remain locked in forever, and of course new trees would grow in the place of those removed that would capture even more CO2.
The amount of CO2 that any given woodland ‘sequesters’ and ‘sinks’ in this way can be measured scientifically. Likewise, the amount of CO2 produced by industry and households can be calculated. Using both estimates it’s possible to design a woodland creation scheme for an organisation that wants to compensate the environment for its unavoidable emissions using the pollution-cleansing power of trees.
Voluntary action of this type is commendable but it cannot be used as a ticket for lax or irresponsible behaviour - partners need to be working on reducing their emissions before they 'offset' the remainder.
Under UK Climate Change Risk Assessment projections flooding is one the biggest threats we face, and woodland creation along watercourses can play a significant part in reducing the impacts of high and concentrated rainfall. There is a considerable body of practical knowledge and research evidence pointing to riparian woodlands as an effective means of flood management, through the following means:
• By reducing peak flood flows through woodland soil’s ‘sponge’ effect;
• By reducing run-off through evaporation of water intercepted by the woodland canopy, or through transpiration by tree roots;
• By slowing run-off through damming caused by Woodland debris;
• By reducing the amount of silt that reaches rivers, thus enhancing their capacity, and by stabilising river banks.
By reducing the amount of water reaching the watercourses, and then lengthening the period over which the surge of water is delivered to a watercourse, flooding is either prevented altogether or reduced. Upstream flood management is also very cost-effective – removing the need for difficult to implement flood protection, or the expensive consequences of flooding, in urban areas.
Our partners opt for the natural solution of woodland creation for their carbon footprints knowing that carbon woodlands are also rich in fringe benefits, such as habitat for biodiversity, recreational space, flood mitigation, and soil and water protection. The method may be slow to capture CO2 but it is free from collateral damage and begins to deliver some of its other benefits almost immediately (for example the simple act of fencing a new woodland off from grazing instantly improves biodiversity and flood reduction). More forests are needed across the world, not least in Britain whose tree cover is a mere 12% compared with mainland Europe’s 37%.
Forest Carbon was active in the development and trialling of the Woodland Carbon Code, which clearly recognizes the positive contribution made by forestry sinks to the UK environment. The UK already counts forestry sequestration in its own annual National Carbon Account, helping the country to meet its international climate change obligations, and data from the ‘Read Report’ shows the contribution forests could make to a low carbon economy in the UK through the provision of goods and services ranging from carbon capture to sustainable building materials.