Quantifying the Sustainable Forestry Carbon Cycle – report by Forest Research

Date published: 27 July 2022

Forest Research has published a systematic analysis of the rate of net CO2 uptake over time as a result of creating a wide range of different types of woodland in the UK. The analysis includes the potential to avoid emissions in the future through using wood products in place of other materials and fuels. Twelve types of woodlands were analysed covering coniferous and broadleaf woodlands as well as naturally recolonising woodland on abandoned land.

Harvested timber at Portglenone Forest
Harvested timber, Portglenone Forest

Link to full report

  • The results show that all the woodland types deliver significant net CO2 uptake over a 100 year period, and nearly all in the 2022 to 2050 period. None result in significant net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during this time.
  • Rates of CO2 uptake vary between woodland types. In shorter timescales (e.g. up to 50 years), a fast-growing conifer plantation can achieve the highest CO2 uptake rates. Over longer timescales, the CO2 uptake rates of different woodland types become closer to one another. 
  • Often, broadleaves are slower growing than coniferous trees but can eventually ‘catch up’ with the amount of CO2 captured by coniferous woodlands .
  • Wood products can provide a significant store of carbon and can avoid emissions when they substitute for other materials. These effects are most apparent for new woodlands managed for production over longer timescales (2022 to 2100), when these woodlands start to produce timber. These contributions can be almost as important as carbon sequestration in the woodlands over this timescale.
  • Net CO2 uptake rates differ more between woodland types over shorter timescales reflecting greater variations at this stage in tree growth rates, silvicultural practices such as thinning, and soil carbon stock changes related to woodland establishment.
  • Good woodland design and management are critical to achieving early CO2 uptake, for example by avoiding disturbance to soil and existing vegetation when planting. This is particularly the case for woodlands where the trees have relatively slow growth rates.
  • Different woodland types will be better suited to different regions of the UK and particular site types. The different woodland types are not all interchangeable in the same locations or sites within the UK. Care must be taken when making simple comparisons across the different woodland options.
  • The report also found that the modelling results were consistent with experimental measurements of CO2 uptake rates where these were available.

A full assessment report will be released later in 2022.

Notes to editors: 

Forest Research (FR) is the research agency of the Forestry Commission (FC) and the UK’s principal organisation for forestry and tree-related research. FR is internationally renowned for the provision of science, research, evidence, data and services in support of sustainable forestry.

FR produce a wide range of information in support of sustainable forest management in the UK. Publications are organised by category in the filtered search. The catalogue includes the FC publication library and archive as well as Forest Research articles and guidance.

All FR publications and research(external link opens in a new window / tab) (link to FR site)

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