The Carbon Stored in UK Woodlands
Around the world, forests act as natural carbon sinks by drawing down CO2, storing carbon in their biomass and releasing oxygen. While human actions and climate change threaten to turn forests around the world into carbon sources rather than sinks [external link], a healthy woodland will capture carbon as it grows.
When a new woodland is created here in the UK, it’s a permanent land use change, and whether the woodland will sit undisturbed for hundreds of years, or produce sustainable timber in the coming decades, the area will remain forested in the long term. This means that any new woodland creation scheme in the UK will be a permanent, and valuable, carbon store.
When a project comes to Forest Carbon, we are able to use scientifically-developed models, from Forest Research and the Woodland Carbon Code, to assess how much carbon will be drawn down as a result of the planting. If the project meets the Code’s Additionality criteria, the carbon credits generated can be sold to businesses and individuals.
Our partners often opt to use woodland creation to address their carbon footprints because they are aware of the range of benefits, beyond carbon, that these habitats provide. Termed ecosystem services, these can include habitat for biodiversity, recreational space for local communities, flood mitigation, soil protection, water filtration and cleaner air.
While trees only capture carbon over time, and a tree planted today may need a decade or two to start sequestering significant amounts, some benefits are delivered almost immediately. For example, within a few years of fencing and planting many projects see improvements in biodiversity. Our new woodlands also often connect existing habitats, support vulnerable species, and provide a whole range of ecosystem services.
In addition, growing woodlands can help to mitigate flooding after heavy rain events – a crucial component of the UK’s adaptation to climate change. We have seen unprecedented flooding in recent years, as the frequency of intense rain events increases. Planting along rivers and watercourse can reduce the risk of flooding, as the presence of trees and their root systems increase the capacity of the soil to soak up rainwater, and their canopies intercept rainwater as it falls. This contributes to slowing and reducing the amount of water that reaches our rivers. Root systems also bind the soil, preventing erosion and reducing the amount of silt that reaches watercourses downstream.
Planting trees can also improve water habitats by providing shade, lowering water temperature, and reducing the amount of agricultural pollution that reaches the watercourse. Woodlands capture carbon, yes, but they also have a role to play in our adaptation to the effects of climate change.
Beyond these environmental benefits, woodland creation also contributes to the economy, with around 40,000 jobs in the UK related to forestry – a number that is likely to rise as the UK and devolved governments push harder to reach ambitious tree planting targets in the coming years.
While there is no silver bullet solution to climate change, and tree planting must be carried out in a way that recognizes the need to plant the right tree in the right place, woodland creation is a solution that can help the UK meet its climate change targets, increase biodiversity, reduce the risk and intensity of flooding, support local economies, and provide spaces for recreation and amenity.