The benefits of planting woodlands

Treegeneration works in partnership with farmers and landowners to diversify and create new income through the Woodland Carbon Code, by planting trees and selling the carbon they capture as they grow. Carbon is a growing market and the potential income from it is likely to rise steeply over the next 30 years as the effects of climate change deepen, and it is probable that the long term income from creating woodland could be on a par with current income levels from grazing sheep.

There are many benefits to creating woodland, for the natural environment as well as the landowner. In England the Government's landmark Agricultural Bill was passed into law in 2020, following our exit from the EU. The Bill sets out how under the Environmental Land Management scheme, farmers and land managers will be rewarded in the future with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change. Planting the right trees in the right place can potentially achieve all of these outcomes. Similar legislation is in the pipeline for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition to earning cash through the Woodland Carbon Code, landowners who create new woodland are setting yourselves up to be in line with the Environmental Land Management Scheme.

Whilst the carbon market is growing, on the other hand the market for meat produce is shrinking. Recent research has suggested that by 2040, as much as 60% of 'meat' consumed will be 'no kill' meat - that is to say it will be produced from plant based alternatives, or it will be meat that is grown in a lab. Laboratory grown meat is likely to be cheaper, require less land to produce, and create less carbon dioxide than meat that is grown by conventional means, and it is going to be difficult for farmers to compete with this. Diversifying into woodland and sale of carbon is likely to be an important income stream in the future.

In the 2019 general election Labour pledged to plant 2 billion trees by 2040, and the Conservative Party said they would plant 30 million / year until 2024. Over the last 30 years there has been a lot urban regeneration woodland creation, but most of the available land for this kind of development has already been used, which means that future tree planting will need to take place mostly on private owned farms and smallholdings.

Diversification

Planting woodland within the WCC does not have to be an all or nothing scenario, and offers a viable option for diversifying land use for farmers and other land owners. In addition to providing a new income stream, the integration of woodland into an existing farm system can provide additional benefits. For example in upland grazing areas, new woodland cover can provide shelter beds meaning that otherwise exposed sites can be better used by livestock in winter months. Also the planting of trees can help prevent water run-off, water logging, soil erosion, and flash flooding further down stream in periods of high rain fall. Depending on the needs of the land owner, a woodland designed to WCC specifications can also include allowances for taking thinning, or harvesting of a proportion of the timber for use in on-site construction projects, or for sale to timber markets.

The wider benefits of planting woodlands

The primary goal of planting a new woodland within the WCC is to capture CO2 from the atmosphere, and help the UK meet its international climate change commitments.

In addition to this, there are many other potential benefits from creating woodland, for the environment, and local communities:

  • Natural habitat, and enhanced biodiversity;
  • Outdoor recreational spaces;
  • More interesting visual landscape;
  • Improved air quality by trapping harmful dust particles and absorbing gases like sulphur dioxide and ozone;
  • Dampening of noise pollution, particularly along transport corridors;
  • Providing wind breaks, and buffering extremes of hot and cold weather;
  • Regulating water quality and supply, stabilise riverbanks, reducing soil erosion, and mitigate flooding.