Carbon and greenhouse gases in UK forestry

A review of information of particular relevance to the UK

News from Forest Research: January 2011

The forest carbon cycle

Forests and woodlands are an integral part of the global carbon cycle, and are therefore a key component of climate regulation. Quantifying how much carbon accumulates in forests as they grow and assessing the benefits of using wood products for fuel or timber is essential if forest management is to maximise its climate change mitigation role. Forest Research has a substantial programme of research into managing forest carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) balances, and has recently undertaken a review of information of particular relevance to the UK.

The review discusses which forest components hold the carbon stocks and how they change. Data from the 2007 BioSoil survey of UK forests show that about 75% of the carbon held in forests is in the soil, while tree stems only account for 10%. The review also summarises evidence on rates of carbon accumulation and loss, and discusses the influence of management activities on the woodland carbon cycle and GHG emissions. For example, emissions due to fossil fuel use during forestry operations are shown to be a small component of the overall GHG balance. Forest Research’s carbon accounting model has been used to demonstrate the GHG balance of forest stands under different management options, including the contributions that use of harvested wood products and woodfuel can make to mitigation.

The review complements the recent reports Combating climate change: a role for UK Forests and Understanding the GHG implications of forestry on peat soils in Scotland, and provides detailed scientific background for the Woodland Carbon Code, the UK’s voluntary standard for woodland creation projects that sequester carbon. It also highlights important evidence gaps and outlines research priorities for the future.

The review will be available online from early February at; alternatively for more information contact James Morison.

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This and other news stories can be found in the January 2011 issue of FR News, our online newsletter.