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Trees and carbon

How can the creation of a mixed, wooded landscape help to reduce the negative effects of climate change and assist us in adapting to new conditions?

Trees and forest soils do absorb carbon. The National Forest Company has researched rates of 'carbon sequestration', the process whereby carbon dioxide is absorbed through the tree's photosynthesis. On average, each National Forest tree will sequester 79kg of carbon, equivalent to 290kg of carbon dioxide, over an 80 year period of growth. The exact rate depends on the soil, the species, the growth rate, and the age of the tree but the right tree in the right place can be an attractive way of removing carbon dioxide.

Carbon can then be 'locked in' by not disturbing the soil, even after felling, and by the use of wood products after a tree has been felled. If burnt locally and the tree replanted it can be a more sustainable fuel than coal, gas or oil.

The current consensus is that tree planting alone cannot meet the UK's carbon reduction needs: given the rate at which sequestration happens and levels of carbon emissions, there is simply not enough land for planting the equivalent number of trees which would be needed. However, tree planting does help and as the trees mature, they will make an increasing contribution to the United Kingdom's ambitious long-term aim of achieving a reduction in the net UK carbon account for the year 2050, such that it is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.

Tree planting is therefore a long-term investment towards creating a more stable planet. However it cannot alone compensate for human activity that generates carbon emissions. Individuals and businesses will also have to undertake changes to their lifestyles, activities and priorities.

For example, one of The National Forest Company's recent business sponsors acknowledged the impacts of executive international flights through tree planting, whilst adopting as many other measures as it could to reduce its overall climate impact.

Next: The National Forest's contribution

More information

Below is up to date information on key messages from the Forestry Commission on climate change.