The contribution of native woodlands to UK's net-zero climate targets

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


Conservation and restoration of forests, wetlands and grasslands can provide one-third of the actions needed to hold global temperature increase below 2C and prevent disastrous climate change. Many nations have included such natural climate solutions (also known as nature-based solutions) in their efforts to reduce emissions and prevent climate change. The UK Committee on Climate Change has advised that to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the UK must create 30,000 - 50,000 hectares of forest per year. However, a number of challenges remain, relating to both the science and the practicalities of afforestation. It is not clear how much carbon different types of new woodlands remove from the atmosphere, or how the ability of new woodlands to remove carbon depends on the way the woodlands are created. Crucially, most work in the UK has focussed on conifer plantations; we know very little about the carbon sequestration potential of UK native woodlands (Richardson in prep.). Carbon storage in organic soils can decline after tree planting (Friggens et al., 2020), meaning it is important to understand total carbon storage and any initial losses of soil carbon that could occur from planting trees in the "wrong" place. Almost all the focus on UK woodland creation has focused on tree planting. Natural regeneration, where trees seed naturally to create new woodlands (Spracklen et al., 2013), could make an important contribution to UK targets (Fletcher et al., in prep.), but almost nothing is known about the rates of carbon removal by naturally regenerating woodland in the UK.
This project will make an important contribution to our knowledge of the carbon uptake and storage of UK native woodlands. The project will include extensive fieldwork to assess carbon storage across a range of native woodland sites.
The project will address the following objectives:
1) Assess the soil and carbon stocks of native broadleaf woodland for a range of woodland ages from newly established woodland to mature woodland, across a range of land use types.
2) Assess the carbon removal by new native woodlands created by tree planting and natural regeneration.
The student will collaborate closely with a number of key project partners, including the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Forestry Research, Woodland Trust, Forestry England and the RSPB. Through these partnerships we have permissions to conduct field work across a variety of newly created native woodlands of various ages and created in a range of different ways including natural regeneration. In particular, these partnerships provide access to a range of landscape-scale woodland creation projects using "rewilding" techniques. Forest Research have agreed to be a CASE partner, providing the opportunity for a 3 to 18 month placement.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007458/1 01/09/2019 30/09/2027
2607730 Studentship NE/S007458/1 01/10/2021 28/02/2023 Tasmin Fletcher