Trees fighting climate change: carbon sequestration - The Heart of England Forest


Woodlands and forests have a vital part to play in adapting to a changing climate. With rising global temperatures and the UK seeing an increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the ecosystem services delivered by trees have never been more important.

Ecosystem services – the direct and indirect contributions to human wellbeing – provided by trees include carbon sequestration, oxygen production, reducing flood risk, preventing soil erosion and providing habitats which support a wide range of biodiversity.

Here we look at how the carbon dioxide absorbing properties of trees make tree planting a great way to tackle climate change.

Trees and carbon sequestration

Trees grow by taking carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and using it as energy to build new materials like stems and roots. Through this process, the tree sequesters carbon, removing it from the atmosphere and storing it as woody tissue.

Globally, forests may account for as much as 45% of the carbon stored on land. In the UK alone it is estimated that 880 million tonnes of carbon are stored in our woods and forests.

When a woodland tree dies, it gradually decomposes. Some CO2 is released during this process, but where these dead trees are left in the forest this CO2 is also stored in the forest soil which represents a significant reservoir of carbon. Indeed, over 75% of forest carbon in the UK is held in the soil. If a tree is harvested later and turned into a permanent product, then the sequestered carbon will remain locked away for the life of that product.

Here at the Heart of England Forest, our focus is on social forestry for the enjoyment of people, and on biodiversity and conservation. However, in 100 years or so when the oaks we are planting now have reached maturity and we need to remove individual trees to allow for natural regeneration, the timber could be used for crafting and construction. In the short term, our rapidly growing hazel coppices produce sustainable crafting materials.

Many commercial forest plantations use destructive practices to manage and harvest trees, including ploughing and clear-felling. We prioritise low impact systems and practices which, in turn, limit the amount of disturbance to forest soils and keep the carbon locked away.

Diverse forests store more carbon

We plant a wide variety of native broadleaf species, ranging from relatively short-lived species like willow to venerable ancients like our English oaks. Diverse forests such as ours can potentially store twice as much carbon as plantations of a single species (monocultures). So, in addition to increasing the resilience of the forest, this diversity will also maximise the carbon storage potential of the Heart of England Forest.

Young forests like the Heart of England Forest sequester carbon more quickly than mature forests, as the young trees grow more rapidly.

Become a Friend of the Forest and combat climate change

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