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Woodlands and forests contain substantial carbon (C) in the soil, trees and other vegetation, and globally they are hugely important to the carbon, water and energy cycles. Removing forests releases CO2 into the atmosphere, while growing trees absorb CO2 from the air. Other greenhouse gases (GHG) such as methane and nitrous oxide are also exchanged between forests and the atmosphere, so forests are a key component of the planet’s GHG balance. Therefore the functioning and management of forests are critical to efforts to reduce climate change (‘climate change mitigation’), and reduce the net GHG emissions into the atmosphere (‘emissions abatement’) including by removing CO2 from the air (‘greenhouse gas removal’).
The amount of carbon held in the UK’s 3.2 million hectares of woodlands and forests is estimated at 1,095 Mt C (million tonnes of carbon, or 4,016 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent).
While the large amounts of carbon in the trees are most obvious to us in the stems, branches and woody roots, about 70% of the carbon held in UK forests is in the soil (calculated only for the top 1m; peat soils in some locations may be much deeper). This amount of C in forests is equivalent to about 10 years of our present UK fossil fuel emissions. Importantly, the UK’s woodland and forests are taking up about 4.6 Mt C per year (16.9 Mt CO2 per year), reducing our net emissions. Expanding the UK woodland and forests will therefore help reduce net GHG emissions. In addition, increasing the amount of C held in long-lived forest products like timber will also help by sequestering carbon, and will help reduce the use of fossil-fuel intensive materials like metals, bricks and concrete.
In addition, harvesting trees for wood fuel for heating or power generation instead of using fossil fuels, can cause a net emissions reduction, if the rate of growth of replacement trees is sufficient to absorb the CO2 released during wood fuel production and consumption.
There are close links to several other Forest Research programmes:
There are research links with several UK Universities:
Describes the Forest Research Straits carbon flux site