F for forestry. F for farming. Two types of land management that produce commodities that we as humans need to survive. However, in my experience both land types appear distant, separated and somewhat disjointed despite integrally linked via the earth’s crust and natural processes they rely on. In my experience forestry to some farming cultures can be like saying the “F” word and the services land provides appear to be within a disjointed hierarchy.
In my eyes managing land for food, timber, biodiversity or for sequestration of carbon can co-exist in multi-dynamic fashion within the mosaic landscape of our small island. Food security and nature restoration can have a mutually symbiotic relationship. Surely land can be managed in a way to allow different land types to complement and benefit each other and even compensate for one another to allow the other to yield at its best?
Each nature-based service has a value depending on the service it provides to us. Natural capital is the fancy word for it. This service could be provision of food, timber, flood attenuation or carbon capture. All of which have a value. However, until recently these ecosystems services have been managed in isolation. Farmer’s farm, foresters manage trees. In addition, until the last decade, a financial value was only put on a tangible service and the value of other invisible services our planet provides such as carbon sequestration were forgotten because there was no monetary incentive apportioned to them. Until now.
Climate change, carbon, conservation – an alliteration of words we are all too familiar with and are high on the UK Government’s agenda. We all know that in 29 years’ time we plan to be Net Zero and Glasgow is the chosen city to host COP26 (Conference of the Parties) later this year to iron out global plans of the Paris Agreement. Humanity has woken up. The world has suddenly realised that these intangible assets are valuable to all life on earth and crucial to a sustainable future.
"If we objectively view climate change and the loss of nature as worldwide security threats - as indeed they are - then we may yet act proportionately and in time." Sir David Attenborough.
Carbon. The word of the century and the “new” major nature-based solution that will help restore our planet. But carbon sequestration is not actually new. Nature has always sequestered carbon, silently, we just took it for granted and as humanity has grown the rate at which we emit carbon to the atmosphere outweighs what our planet can take in. We have been short-sighted and not fully understood the degenerative manner of our current land practices. The carbon cycle is imbalanced, and time is of essence to restore this equilibrium.
As land managers, farmers, foresters, environmentalists it is now our duty to act, and the Government are providing us with the platforms to do so. In the UK at present the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code are two active mechanisms by which carbon can be quantified from new woodland planting or peatland restoration, respectively. These platforms allow the registration of new woodland creation and peatland restoration projects on a UK Land Carbon Registry. These codes provide a framework for adding financial value to carbon sequestration and unearthing these silent services.
The biological growth of trees absorbs carbon and woodlands have high rates of carbon sequestration. A recent study carried out by Natural England found that one hectare of native woodland could sequester the equivalent CO2 each year as flying from London to Rome 13 times. Pretty good. However, the amount of carbon a woodland will lock up varies and is dependent on species, growth rate, soil type and management. The Woodland Carbon Code enables specific sites to be assessed and the carbon sequestration quantified.
Similarly, peatlands a super carbon sink. Phenomenal carbon sponges. Peatland is formed from a mass of organic matter soaked in water. The hydrology of peatland, in its natural wet state, prevents carbon within organic matter at the surface oxidising and being released as carbon dioxide. However, over the years we have abused this resource, farmed it and drained it of all its glory. Exposed and bareboned degraded peatland has been contributing to rising carbon emissions. One hectare of drained bog emits 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, which is the equivalent of 6 cars driving continuously over one hectare. Therefore, we need to get the plumbers in as peatland restoration is a necessity. Furthermore, the Committee on Climate Change revealed that every £1 spent on peatland restoration yields £4 of social benefit from not only a reduction in carbon emissions but improved water quality and flood mitigation.
The action needed does not need to be isolated. Yes, there is a need to produce food on scale but there is also a need for large scale commercial forestry plantations to provide timber to replace high emitting materials such as steel and concrete. However, in order to reach Net Zero and ensure the sustainability of our land every landowner must start assessing what land they own, identify any natural capital assets, prime agricultural land, marginal land, areas for potential woodland planting and peatland restoration. Marginal land and peatland should no longer be looked over but considered a fundamental part of any land holding with substantial environmental and recent financial value.
With the dawn of new agricultural and environmental policies, and significant Government grant aid to incentivise this change, there is no excuse not to capitalise on this drive to restore our landscape. Landowners can apply for significant grant funding to plant trees, restore peatland then register eligible projects on the Woodland Carbon Code and Peatland Code for carbon trading. With the rise of the carbon market, this ecosystem service now has a monetary value, and will be the catalyst for the rise of other green markets. Now is the time to change our perception and the way we view and manage land. Forestry should no longer be viewed on par with the “F” word but as one important mechanism for mitigating climate change in symbiosis with sustainable farming practice.
Scottish Woodlands’ carbon team are experienced project developers for the UK Land Carbon Registry which is the platform for Woodland Carbon Code and Peatland Code projects. Scottish Woodlands has a large portfolio of woodland creation projects and a growing number of peatland restoration projects with nearly 200 carbon schemes which are estimated to sequester approximately 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
The Woodland Carbon Code has recently publicised that all new woodland creation projects planted within 2 years from the first planting date to 30th June 2021, must be registered before 30th June 2021. From 1st July 2021 projects must be registered on the Woodland carbon Code before planting starts. Time is of the essence. Now is the time to act and adapt. If you are interested in discussing an existing scheme or new planting or peatland project our carbon team would be happy to help.
Emma Kerr BSc MSc MRICS Carbon Manager