Why Are We Creating Tomorrow’s Forests?

Why Are We Creating Tomorrow’s Forests?

We are Creating Tomorrow’s Forests to fight climate change by harnessing the carbon sequestration potential of trees and to increase biodiversity by planting native trees and restoring woodland habitat. With our expertise in planting and managing forests, we can create beautiful woodland ecosystems and other habitats that will thrive and provide a multitude of benefits for people and the planet.

Climate change

Climate change as a result of human activity has led to an increase in global average temperature of 1.1°C compared to the pre-industrial era. This rise has been associated with an increase in extreme weather events, the retreat of glaciers and sea ice, and record sea levels. Under the Paris Agreement, which has been signed by almost every country in the world, targets have been set to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 7.6% every year until 2030, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Although the facts surrounding climate change are alarming, we already have a powerful weapon that we can use to reduce atmospheric carbon and reduce global temperatures: trees. Currently 29% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are sequestered (absorbed and stored) by the terrestrial biosphere according to the 2019 Carbon Budget, with forests being the major contributor. Trees have huge potential to help in the fight to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and planting 1 billion hectares of forest is one of the key recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report. Trees also play a huge part in increasing biodiversity, reducing soil erosion, reducing flooding and lowering temperatures in the areas they are planted, so increasing forest cover has huge benefits for the environment and human wellbeing.

Biodiversity

In addition to the climate emergency, there is another crisis facing the planet in terms of human-induced species extinctions and loss of biodiversity. For example, 1 million species globally are faced with extinction, 322 terrestrial vertebrate species have become extinct since 1500, over half of amphibian species face extinction, and there have been drastic reductions in insect populations, which could lead to a collapse of natural systems and considerable problems for food production.

Herb paris (Paris quadrifolia) – Photo credit: S. Webber

Herb paris (Paris quadrifolia) – Photo credit: S. Webber

Biodiversity loss happens as a result of deforestation, habitat degradation, pollution, hunting, land use changes and climate change. All ecosystems have an intricate web of interlinked species and removing even one can have profound consequences for the health and resilience of the remaining species. For example, if an apex predator such as a wolf is removed, then herbivores such as deer increase and the grazing pressure on vegetation can be extreme. Biodiversity loss not only threatens the planet but human existence itself because we are so reliant on natural resources, and indeed a reduction in biodiversity has been linked to the increase of human diseases such as Covid-19.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) – Photo credit: Stan Ashbourne (https://www.flickr.com)

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) – Photo credit: Stan Ashbourne (https://www.flickr.com)

Eighty percent of terrestrial invertebrates are found in forests, and although there are over 80,000 tree species, only 1% have been studied. This represents a huge untapped potential for medicine and one of many reasons why we should preserve and create forests. Increasing forest biodiversity can also increase carbon capture, so planting diverse, native forests is critical for the planet.

Creating new forests

It is estimated that afforestation (creating new forests) could create an additional 0.9 billion hectares of continuous forest and sequester 205 Gigagonnes of CO2, equivalent to 25% of the current atmospheric carbon pool, without encroaching on land currently used for agriculture. This is an enormous contribution and reinforces why projects all around the world, such as The Trillion Tree Campaign and the Bonn Challenge are working to plant as many trees as possible. Although preserving existing forests is critical to reducing planetary warming, there is evidence that new forests and forest regrowth absorb carbon more quickly than old forests.

Rainforest – Photo Credit: Ben Britten (https://www.flickr.com)

Rainforest – Photo Credit: Ben Britten (https://www.flickr.com)

Tree planting projects have tended to focus on the tropics, because trees grow faster in a warmer, more humid climate and with consistent daylength, although there is evidence that the tropical forest carbon sink may be reaching saturation point. Planting for carbon sequestration frequently involves creating vast plantations of one or two tree species, sometimes using non-native and potentially invasive species, but this could be suboptimal from a climate change and ecological perspective. Natural forests are 40 times better at sequestering carbon than plantations, and planting mixed species forests can dramatically increase carbon storage. Planting native forests also has benefits in terms of increasing biodiversity, which in turn will create a healthier, more productive ecosystem that can better withstand environmental changes.

Creating Tomorrow’s Forests – our approach

The UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with forest cover of only 13%, compared to a European average of 44%. We passionately believe that we should be creating thriving woodland ecosystems here in the UK, rather than planting abroad, and that with our expertise in planting and managing forests, we can achieve this. This enables us to contribute towards UK commitments to plant 11 million trees by 2022, as well as increasing biodiversity and creating woodland habitat here in the UK that our members can visit and appreciate. We use the latest scientific research and detailed analysis of each of our sites to ensure that we are planting the right tree, in the right place, at the right time. This means that we will make sure that our forests thrive and that we maximise biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Photo credit: Tomorrow’s Forests

Photo credit: Tomorrow’s Forests

New forests can sequester carbon faster than existing forests and by planting a diverse mix of native, local tree species that we know will thrive, we can jumpstart the carbon sequestration process. We use a variation on the Miyawaki Method that involves adding a mulch of local materials and then planting native saplings at very high densities, to mimic natural reforestation processes when a break in the canopy occurs and seedlings compete for light. The trees grow ten times faster than in a traditional plantation, creating a stabilised forest in 15-20 years in a temperate climate. This means that carbon capture is accelerated and indeed one study has shown that carbon sequestration is higher in a Miyawaki forest than a naturally regrowing forest. Another advantage of this method is that biodiversity has been found to be on average 18 times higher in Miyawaki forests, so we can restore lost habitat for invertebrates, soil microorganisms and other wildlife even faster. Once trees are established then our management technique includes thinning out some of the faster growing species to provide space for cornerstone species such as oaks (Quercus robur) to grow.

Our commitment to our members and to the planet is to provide beautiful, diverse habitats that allow wildlife to thrive and help nature to help us fight climate change.

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