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Welsh experts warn against planting ‘short term’ carbon-capture woodlands that are rejected by communities

31 Oct 2022 3 minute read
Dr Sophie Wynne-Jpnes. Right, Henfaes forest. Pictures by Bangor University.

Experts at a Welsh university have warned against planting “short-term” woodlands to offset carbon emissions that are rejected by surrounding communities.

Researchers at Bangor University have said in a new book, Rural Governance in the UK: Towards a Sustainable and Equitable Society, that expanding woodlands in Wales and elsewhere could play a valuable role in achieving ‘net zero’ targets.

But they warned that lessons from history, especially during the last 100+ years of state-led forestry, showed the risks of this approach – including that society’s needs and priorities have moved on by the time the planted trees were ready for harvest.

Led by Dr Sophie Wynne-Jones, a Lecturer in Human Geography and currently Net Zero Agriculture Behavioural Insight Fellow for the Welsh Government, the researchers explore how taking a long view of forest policy – more closely aligned with the life span of trees – might help to develop flexible forest resources that are more adaptable to society’s changing needs.

“This is a critical moment for rural policy in the UK and we need to find new ways to achieve our tree planting goals effectively and sensitively,” Dr Wynne-Jones said.

“Legislation such as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and policies such as the National Forest for Wales encourages us to look over the long term. This may allow us to think differently about tree planting as we respond to the challenges of climate change.”

‘Rapid change’

The Welsh Government’s current aim is to plant 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030 and 180,000 hectares by 2050 to help Wales meet its carbon emission reduction targets.

That is equivalent to planting at least 5,000 hectares per year.

The target has proven controversial with some, with groups such as the Countryside Alliance launching a petition to “save Welsh farmland from mass tree planting”.

But one contributor to the new book, Dr Norman Dandy who is Director of Bangor University’s Sir William Roberts Centre for Sustainable Land Use, said that long-term thinking was “more likely to gain acceptance amongst our rural communities”.

“A forest policy which takes the long timescales of tree growth into account and avoids too rapid a change in our landscape can help us avoid the mistakes based on short-term thinking that we’ve made in the past,” he said.

In meeting the current high priority of using new woodlands to capture carbon, history, tells us it would be wise to ensure the forests we create are resilient and can meet the priorities that emerge over coming decades, the researchers said.

This could lead us to develop landscapes with diverse types of woodland able to provide places for wildlife, recreation, wellbeing, and timber production, alongside carbon storage to combat climate change.

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Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
1 year ago

Assuming we are talking about a collection of sustainable native species, not tax-dodgers planting Canadian Pine all over our mountains, then I’m all for it. Before Rome and the Saxon immigration, 80% of our island was forested. And little known fact, forestry is a massively efficient method of ground stabilisation and anti-flood measures.
It needs to be done properly, in good faith and without profiteering (so that’s going to be a challenge with corrupt Mordor looking for the profit), but I celebrate reforestation. I know it’s not a uniformly popular viewpoint, but I stand by it.

Last edited 1 year ago by Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
1 year ago

you say – “ …little known fact, forestry is a massively efficient method of ground stabilisation and anti-flood measures.” Actually, it’s well known among people who have lived out in the countryside but it’s a fact that has escaped the blockheads in the Bay and Council chambers up and down the country. The approval of housing developments on flood plains and in the path of natural drainage courses was quite common until recently, and even now timber is seen as a “good net zero” tactic rather than in a wider beneficial sense. The key to success is to get communities involved… Read more »

Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
1 year ago
Reply to  hdavies15

I’ve lived out in the countryside and I can’t say it’s something people knew about. But that’s anecdotal so who knows how widespread this knowledge is. But I agree it is a simple fact that seems to have escaped all levels of government all over this and some other poorly run countries. As regards planting of trees though, in all cases these need to be significant planting, covering hectares not tactically located copses, field borders or riverside walks (which will not significantly change the water table). They need space to naturally self seed and self manage. There is certainly an… Read more »

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
1 year ago

And in other environmental news, King Charles gives Sunak the finger, and announces he will be holding a reception at Buck House for 200+ to bring the UK’s chair of cop26 to an end ready for cop27.

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