Carbon Capture – Ecopoint Guest Blog
By Stephen Prior, Co-Founder of Forest Carbon Ltd
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Allstar’s Ecopoint scheme has used customer carbon footprints as a means of creating a significant investment in certified UK woodland creation – over 850,000 trees covering 1,400 acres as at the end of November 2015. These trees will go on to capture over 200,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere in the coming decades, as assessed by the government-backed Woodland Carbon Code, making a contribution to the UK’s fight against climate change. What is less well known is all the other benefits forestry and woodlands bring to the UK. These include flood mitigation, improvements in health and well-being, wildlife habitat, river quality improvement and employment creation. Finally, trees also help the UK meet its international carbon reduction obligations.
A 2009 Forestry Commission report, endorsed by the government of the day, recognised that an effective tripling of the rate of planting of all types of woodland across the UK could be cancelling around 10% of the national carbon footprint by the 2050s. We are not near that level yet, but initiatives such as Ecopoint are playing a part in achieving that aspiration. If we could get there, the benefits would be considerable.
Over 8,000 jobs could be created in the rural economy, as well as a further 16,000 protected. In addition there would be a reduction in timber imports (the UK is the world’s third largest importer of timber), and a positive contribution to the nation’s balance of payments.
Environmental and social benefits
The estimation of environmental benefits resulting from new woodlands is currently a key theme in much UK government thinking.
The 2010 UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) estimates that climate change could double the number of households at serious risk of flooding by 2060, and that without mitigation the costs of damage to households will increase from £1.4 billion in 2000 to at least £12 billion in 2080 (in today’s prices). With mitigation it is estimated that this figure would be reduced significantly to something in the range £2.2 billion to £6.7 billion. These figures do not include flooding losses incurred by agriculture.
Woodland creation projects that involve planting along watercourses (‘riparian woodlands’), such as Ecopoint’s projects at Ruddenleys and the Glen, help prevent flooding by reducing the peak flow of water into streams and rivers.
The NEA also reports that the pollution remediation effects of woodlands are likely to be substantial, and studies show that riparian woodlands achieve almost complete prevention of run-off pollution into rivers, making them cleaner.
To date Woodland Carbon Code validated projects, such as those invested in by Ecopoint members, have initiated over 4,000 acres of UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Woodland Habitats.
Forest Carbon believes the greatest social benefit is the creation of rural jobs. However all new woods created under the Woodland Carbon Code offer public access and many provide opportunities for education and community involvement.
In addition 2010 and 2012 reports by the Forestry Commission highlight several studies that demonstrate the health benefits of green space, particularly woodlands, including reduced health inequality, improvements in levels of physical activity, improved mental well-being, and increases in life expectancy, all consequent on proximity to green spaces.
The UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe, and it is clear that we will all benefit from increased levels of woodland creation in the UK. Initiatives such as Allstar’s Ecopoint programme are leading the way in the restoration of our woodlands and the fight against climate change and its consequences.
Stephen Prior is co-founder of Forest Carbon Ltd, Allstar’s project delivery partner for Ecopoint. Forest Carbon is the UK’s leading developer of new woodlands certified under the government’s Woodland Carbon Code (WCC).
Forest Carbon were pioneers in this field – their first project was planted in 2006 – and have so far supported in the creation of 80+ new woodlands around the country for UK businesses. Forest Carbon were also integral to the development of the WCC, which is recognised globally and to date is the only government supported means of mitigating CO2 emissions with projects in the UK.
Stephen is the former head of an independent secondary school in Zimbabwe and discovered a second vocation through his Durham University MBA dissertation, which looked at environmental economics and the UK carbon market. His findings convinced him of the potential for carbon funded woodland creation to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the UK.