Page last updated at 02:46 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Plan to boost UK woodland to tackle climate change

A young tree sapling
The plan would see a mix of native tree species planted

Millions of trees should be planted to cover an extra 4% of the UK in woodland in order to tackle climate change, the Forestry Commission has recommended.

It said planting 23,000 hectares a year would make a "significant" contribution to meeting lower emissions targets.

Trees suck carbon dioxide from the air and store it in wood, cutting the level of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the government would work to ensure the planting programme happened.

'Carbon locked up'

He said: "We cannot underestimate the role that trees will play in reducing our carbon emissions.

"Greater forest cover can help us achieve this either through directly absorbing CO2 or by providing more sustainable materials for construction and renewable energy."

The recommended planting - equivalent to 30,000 football pitches a year - would bring the UK's total woodland cover to 16%.

Professor Sir David Read, chairman of a panel of scientists who carried out the research, said: "By increasing our tree cover we can lock up carbon directly.

"By using more wood for fuel and construction materials we can make savings by using less gas, oil and coal, and by substituting sustainably produced timber for less climate-friendly materials."

The researchers said carbon storage declined as younger trees matured, so tripling tree planting could help reverse those declines.

Woodland in Oxfordshire
Trees also counter air pollution and cool our towns and cities

The study suggested planting a diverse mix of native broadleaf trees rather than replacing the dense conifer plantations which are now being felled.

It is hoped the latest plan would absorb 10% of the UK's target of slashing its emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.

Sue Holden, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said her conservation charity had called for native tree cover to double.

She said: "The UK is one of the least-wooded countries in Europe. There is an urgent need to create landscapes that enable wildlife and people to better adapt to climate change.

"New native trees and woodland would help make existing habitats more resilient and increase opportunities for wildlife to move in response to change.

"They would also substantially improve water quality, reduce flooding, counter air pollution and cool our towns and cities."

Mr Benn added: "As a nation we need to plant a very large number of trees over the next 40 years to tackle climate change by bringing down our carbon emissions.

"The government will work with communities and businesses to ensure that this happens."

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