Are our forests and woodlands capturing enough carbon?

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Forty seven percent of England’s woodland is currently not being managed. This means that we are missing a huge opportunity for carbon capture. In this post, we’ll examine some of the issues behind this.

A recent report on the BBC website  gave an informed, academic perspective on the Carbon Capture and Storage of Europe’s Woodlands and Forests.

It highlighted that because of irregular replanting and management of trees, there were now a disproportionate amount of fully mature trees across Europe. This meant that in reaching maturity and ceasing to grow appreciably, mature trees are slowing down the rate of CO₂ capture each year. There may therefore be an over-assessment of the amount of carbon capture and sequestration (that’s the capture and long-term storage of atmospheric CO₂ to you and me!) that was actually being achieved.

The report therefore highlights the urgent need for more active management of Forests and Woodlands, including balancing both felling and replanting for sustainable Forestry.

Increased woodland and forest management is something that Treco passionately believes in. Actively managed and productive woodland has all-round benefits for the woodland owner, the environment, and the ecological balance of the land as a whole.

This includes support to wildlife habitats. Everyone benefits from this, and wood fuel for use in biomass boilers is one of the natural products of this balanced approach. Using wood fuel can be one of the early income streams and catalyst to encouraging the woodland owner to bring their woodland back into active management. The consequence of under-management, or years of neglect, results in poorly grown trees whose application higher quality products is either significantly reduced or negated. This reduces their potential financial value.

Currently, the Forestry Commission assess that some 53% of England’s woodland is now in active management, and they have set a target to increase this to 66% in five years. This approach is backed by a comprehensive package of grant support for managing and creating new woodland and putting in infrastructure to support the production of woodfuel.

You can find out more about this here. In addition, the Woodland Trust is advocating and supporting the planting of new woodland. They are also offering newly planted woodland for sale for those interested in becoming woodland owners.

As a measure of effectiveness, the amount of woodland in the UK has risen year on year. The rate of new creation each year is also rising – from an additional 1,777 hectares in 2010/11 to 1,942 hectares in 2011/12.  Applications for grants for new planting are also increasing.  Based on the last five years, this will result in 11% of England being covered by woodland in 2060. The Forestry Commission are behind a drive to achieve 12% coverage by 2060.

In a perverse way, the infectious diseases sweeping through Larch and Ash, whilst devastating, are creating new opportunities for replanting and species diversity. This will make our Forests and Woodlands more balanced and resilient to climate change in the future.

The replanting required following a clearing of infected trees in the long term will help to address some of the imbalances in woodland and forest planting. Of course, some of these trees are already planted in sustainably managed forests and woodlands. The amount of press coverage associated with these diseases shows that concern for long term forestry is high in the public consciousness.

However, we should not overlook or ignore the dramatic loss in expected income which diseases that wipe out trees nearing maturity have for the woodland. It is a stark reminder that Forestry is a difficult and challenging long-term business with significant risk attached to it. It’s a sector that requires skilled people within it to make, and keep it, effective.

Sustainability of wood fuel is always an issue raised; coupled with bringing our woodland into active management. There is a drive towards certification, which includes sustainability as part of the UK Forest Standard and the independent Forest Stewardship Council certification (FSC) scheme.  The latter scheme aims to promote sustainably of woodland and forest management by promoting and identifying goods and products produced from them. So the next time you buy a wooden chair, or a packet of envelopes, for instance, check for the FSC logo it’s use helps promote and develop sustainably managed woodlands and forests. As yet though, there is no international agreement on such an approach; it remains voluntary, and is ‘stalled’ at present.

So, back to our question; ‘Are we capturing enough carbon?’ Well, the answer clearly has to be that we must continue to drive in the right direction.

We must continue to promote and support the creation of more woodland. We must bring our woodland back into active management, along with a sustainability regime being promoted as well.  Obviously, this is just a start, but part of a series of positive steps in the right direction.

We can do more, of course – buying products derived from these woodlands and forests is an obvious approach, and the 'Grown in Britain' promotion of the UK forestry sector is a further opportunity to promote the sector. As the excellent forthcoming Confor Woodland Show, a key event in the campaign and one that Treco is supporting directly with attendance and showcasing our biomass boilers on our stand (W6 if you want to find us).

At the ‘Devon at Work’ open day, three of the sites that have a Treco supplied and installed boiler utilising their own wood fuel. Each has a different model, or way of working – illustrating that there is no one unique or perfect model.

Lewmoor Farm is producing wood fuel from their own woodland arisings. whereas Higher Coombe is both managing its own woodland, and was instrumental in establishing the Dartmoor Woodfuel Co-operative. This fuel co-operative now supplies over 2MW of installed boiler capacity with locally sourced wood fuel from the wider Dartmoor area.

The Great Barn,  which is bringing 40 acres of woodland back into active management, including replanting, to move to fully self- supply. This will include horse logging, still the best way of harvesting wood in smaller scale woodlands with steep slopes and boggy/wet terrain in the valley floors. You can find out more about each of these sites from the list of our projects or visit them at the Devon at Work Open Day, which can be booked by calling us directly.

In summary, a felled tree used for building timber or a chair that becomes an item of long term value that has sequestered, or locked up carbon, for a significant time! By creating market demand, we promote and increase woodland and forest management, and by bringing consistency to the market, in the long term, overcome some of the imbalances the recent report highlighted.

The local availability of wood fuel and national supply chains to complement it look to create a healthy and growing market of wood fuel supply for the future, as demand rises. The opportunity for a landowner with woodland to add a localised biomass boiler makes a very virtuous circle, reaping the local benefit of self-supply.

Do you have a biomass or low carbon project?

Speak to our biomass team today

01884 250 790

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