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Woodland Creation

Large-scale woodland creation is being promoted internationally to mitigate climate change. It can also supply other benefits, such as improving biodiversity, air and water quality. This POSTnote summarises key factors influencing how much carbon is taken up by woodland, the different objectives of woodland creation, constraints to increasing UK tree cover and different finance options.

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Growing trees draw carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and store some of this carbon in wood and in the soil. Although there are concerns that woodland creation could distract from the need to reduce emissions, increasing tree cover is one of the few proven methods of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and can deliver other benefits. The UK Government has an overarching commitment to create 30,000 hectares (ha) of woodland per year by 2025, and the devolved administrations have their own woodland creation targets, strategies and grant schemes. 

Different stakeholders have differing objectives when creating woodland, which influence decisions on where woodland should be created, how it should be established, and what tree species should be included. Although the rate of woodland creation is increasing, UK targets during the past decade have been missed due to economic, land tenure, values and financing challenges.  

Key Points: 

  • Creating new woodland is widely agreed to be necessary for the UK to meet its 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions target. 
  • All woodlands have the potential to take up and store CO2, produce timber, enhance biodiversity and deliver other benefits, including recreation and reduced flooding. 
  • The amount of CO2 taken up and other benefits or negative effects of woodland creation depend on where and how woodland is established, tree species present, site conditions and management. 
  • Constraints on woodland creation include economic viability, land tenure, cultural values, permanence of land use change and environmental sensitivities. 
  • Incentives for woodland creation include government grants and carbon payments. Support could be increased through private finance for multiple environmental benefits. 


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Alisha Anstee, National Farmers Union* 

Caroline Ayre, Confor* 

Patrick Begg, National Trust* 

Dr Tom Bradfer-Lawrence, RSPB 

Austin Brady  

Dr Mark Broadmeadow, Forestry Commission* 

Dr Graeme Buchanan, RSPB 

Dr Paul Burgess, Cranfield University 

Dr Eduard Campillo-Funolle, University of Sussex* 

Graham Clarke, Country Land and Business Association 

Prof David Coomes, University of Cambridge* 

Dr Tom Curtis, 3Keel 

Ian Danby, British Association for Shooting and Conservation 

John Deakin, National Trust* 

Jamie Dewhurst , J & A Growers 

Dr Rob Field, RSPB 

Dr Tom Finch, RSPB 

Prof Christine Foyer, Birmingham Institute of Forest Research 

Dr Alessandro Gimona, James Hutton Institute* 

Ashley Hardaker, Bangor University 

Dr Eleanor Harris, Confor* 

Dr Gabriel Hemery, Sylva Foundation* 

Dr Paul Jepson, Ecosulis 

Dr Keith Kirby, University of Oxford* 

Dr Alastair Leake, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust 

Simon Lloyd, Royal Forestry Society 

Prof Robert Mackenzie, Birmingham Institute of Forest Research 

Suma Mani, University of Sheffield 

Dr Robert Matthews, Forest Research 

Dr Mike Morecroft, Natural England* 

Dr James Morison, Forest Research* 

Stuart Morwood, Forest Service Northern Ireland 

Dr Joanne Nightingale, National Physical Laboratory 

Dr Rebecca Nohl, HM Treasury 

Connie O’Neill, University of York 

Paul Orsi, Sylva Foundation* 

Prof Colin Osborne, University of Sheffield 

Dr Tim Pagella, Bangor University* 

Nick Phillips, Woodland Trust 

Ben Raskin, Soil Association* 

Prof Jonathan Scurlock, National Farmers Union* 

Guy Shrubsole, Friends of the Earth* 

Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen* 

Dr Pat Snowdon, Scottish Forestry 

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association 

Duncan Stone, NatureScot* 

Dr Indra Thillainathan, Climate Change Committee* 

Dr Amanda Thomson, Centre of Ecology and Hydrology 

Jon Travis, Welsh Government 

James Weber, University of Cambridge 

Dr Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain 

Alistair Yeomans, Plant Healthy 

Malcolm Young, SAC Consulting 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

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