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North West plays its part to aid climate change

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Young spruce with views over Coniston Water and Coniston mountains

As world leaders debate how to tackle climate change in Copenhagen, the Forestry Commission in the North West of England is highlighting the important role that the region’s trees can play in absorbing greenhouse gas emissions.

An expert, independent panel of scientists recently said that if an extra four per cent of the United Kingdom’s land was planted with new woodland over the next 40 years, it could be compensating for ten per cent of the nation’s predicted greenhouse gas emissions by the 2050s.

In the North West of England, the Forestry Commission looks after more than 22 million trees and plants around half a million new trees every year. The organisation maintains large areas of woodland across the region including Grizedale Forest, Whinlatter Forest and Ennerdale Forest in Cumbria, Delamere Forest in Cheshire and Gisburn Forest in Lancashire.

In the last ten years tree cover in the region has increased by over 11 per cent, with much of the new planting taking place in Manchester and Merseyside thanks to Newlands (New Economic Environments via Woodlands) - a partnership scheme involving the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the Forestry Commission. 

Graeme Prest, Forest Management Director for the Forestry Commission in the North West, says:

“Woodland across the North West is making an important contribution to tackling climate change, as well as providing valuable habitats for wildlife and places for people to enjoy the great outdoors.  There is still a lot of potential in this region to increase tree cover and that means we can play an even bigger part in mitigating climate change as well as creating more green spaces for people to enjoy.”

The panel of independent scientists published a report last month on the potential of the UK’s forests to mitigate climate change.  The panel was chaired by Professor Sir David Read, who said at the time:

“All our research points to the fact that forestry can make a significant and cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets.

“By increasing our tree cover we can lock up carbon directly. By using more wood for fuel and construction materials we can make savings by using less gas, oil and coal, and by substituting sustainably produced timber for less climate-friendly materials.

“While so many emissions reduction measures have negative connotations, tree planting can be a win, win, win solution: people love trees, we benefit from them in so many different ways, and now we know they could play a significant part in reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.”

The report suggests that appropriate planting of 23,000 hectares a year – equivalent to about 30,000 football pitches – over 40 years would involve changing the use of only four per cent of the UK’s land. This would mean increasing tree planting by 200 per cent on current levels. It would bring woodland cover in the UK from its current 12 per cent of the land area to 16 per cent, still well below the European average of 37 per cent.

On mitigating climate change, the report says:

• woodland creation has the potential to provide highly cost-effective and achievable abatement of greenhouse gas emissions compared with potential options in other sectors;

• carbon storage in UK forests has been declining as a result of new-planting rates falling and younger forests, which sequester more carbon than older forests, maturing. Stepping up the new woodland planting rate would help to reverse this decline;

• if the market for wood construction products continues to grow at its current rate over the next 10 years, there is the potential to store an estimated additional 10 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon (equivalent to 36.7 Mt CO2) in new and refurbished homes by 2019; and

• within the next five years, sustainably produced woodfuel has the potential to save the equivalent of approximately seven million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by replacing fossil fuels.  The report says the use of biomass for heating provides one of the most cost-effective and environmentally acceptable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report states that trees, particularly in towns and cities, have an important role in helping society to adapt to climate change by providing shelter, cooling, shade and controlling rainwater runoff.  It says tree and woodland planting should be targeted to places where people live, especially the most vulnerable people, and places where people gather, such as town and local centres, which currently have low tree cover.

Further information on the Read report is available at

For more information visit on the work of the Forestry Commission in North West England visit and

1. Images of the Forestry Commission estate around the North West of England are available by calling 01524-782086.

2. The UK has about three million hectares of forest and woodland, or 12 per cent of the land area. International comparisons include Europe (excluding Russia) 37 per cent; North and Central America 33 per cent; and Finland 74 per cent.

3. The UK has already achieved considerable success in restoring forest cover over the past century. A century ago the woodland cover was estimated to be little more than five per cent of the land area, compared with estimates for the maximum forest cover since the last Ice Age, which go as high as 80 per cent.

4. New woodland establishment in the UK has averaged about 9000 hectares a year over the past five years. The highest recorded annual new planting area in recent times was about 30,000 hectares in 1988.  In 1971, around 43,000 hectares of new woodland was created.

5. The Forestry Commission is the largest provider of countryside recreation in Britain, with responsibility for more than one million hectares (2.4 million acres) of forest, woodlands and open countryside. The North West England Forest District covers the Lake District in Cumbria, the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The forests are managed for conservation, wildlife, landscape and recreation as well as providing a valuable source of timber.

Graeme Prest on 01229 862001 (office) or 07747 762916 (mobile)
Sue Gardiner on 01229 862002