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Today the Forestry Commission launches the Woodland Carbon Task Force charged with kick-starting a major increase in new woodland planting to help the UK curb and adapt to climate change. The Task Force will make a key contribution to delivering Defra’s Climate Change plan, also launched today. 
The Climate Change plan takes forward the strategy set out in the Government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan of July 2009, which highlighted the potential for new woodlands for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Plan gave the illustrative example that 10,000 hectares of new planting per year in England over 15 years could remove 50 million tonnes of CO2 between now and 2050. If the wood produced was also used for construction and as biomass energy in place of fossil-fuels, a further 37 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved. 
A separate scientific assessment of the potential for the UK’s trees and woodlands in curbing climate change concluded that woodland creation provided, ‘a highly cost effective and achievable abatement of greenhouse gas emissions’ - calculating that mixed woodland delivered reductions of carbon dioxide at £20 to £40 per tonne. Up to four times less than the £100 per tonne figure deemed cost effective by the Committee on Climate Change. 
The Woodland Carbon Task Force will catalyse and create the conditions to deliver on those indicative planting and economic figures. As well as additional planting, it will work to ensure there are viable markets for timber and other products from new and existing woodlands to support their sustainable, economic management. An example of such market development that the Task Force will take forward is the Forestry Commission’s Woodfuel Strategy. With a target for increasing the amount of wood harvested for fuel from England’s woods by 60%, the Strategy is supporting the installation of lower-carbon wood-fuelled boilers and bringing currently uneconomic woodland into productive, sustainable management. 
Paul Hill-Tout, Director, Forestry Commission England said:
"It is now recognised that our woods and forests have a significant part to play in helping curb climate change. The Woodland Carbon Task Force will deliver the Forestry Commission’s contribution to shifting society to a lower carbon economy. But neither the Government nor the Forestry Commission can meet this challenge without the support of the very wide range of individuals and organisations involved and interested in our trees, woods and forests. We look forward to engaging with all of these, adding their energy and ideas to our own. Identifying new ways to attract private investment funding for woodland creation will also be key if we are to achieve the major step-change in woodland creation needed." 
Creating new woodland as a key component in the Government’s strategy for curbing climate change must be balanced with the wider objectives and benefits of forestry and woodland in the UK. Today, Defra and the Forestry Commission are also announcing their agreed policy on Open Habitats. This will allow some areas of land that were afforested in previous years, before their wildlife value was fully understood, to be restored after harvesting for timber to open habitat. Together the Government’s woodland creation and Open Habitats policies will ensure net woodland cover in England continues to grow, whilst also benefiting biodiversity. 
NOTES TO EDITOR
- Defra’s Climate Change Plan launched by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Wednesday 31st March 2010.
Extract from Hilary Benn’s speech:
"We know that forestry is a cost-effective way to drive down our emissions – new woodland can absorb carbon dioxide for as little as £20 per tonne over the trees’ lifetime. Forests help us adapt too, holding soil together and helping to absorb extra rainfall.
So today I’m pleased to tell you that Defra and the Forestry Commission have set up the Woodland Carbon Task Force. It will kick start large-scale private sector investment in woodland planting, looking at everything from GHG reporting advice for companies to working with private and public landowners.
Where we plant is as important as what we plant and the Task Force will make sure we get this right.
Perhaps more than anything else its aim is to break down the barriers that exist to creating woodland in the first place."
- The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, 15 July 2009:
‘Woodland creation is a very cost-effective way of fighting climate change over the long term, but it requires an upfront investment.
The Government will support a new drive to encourage private funding for woodland creation.’
- Combating Climate Change, A Role for UK Forests. An assessment of the potential of the UK’s trees and woodlands to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Professor Sir David Read & others, 2009.
UK woodland cover stands at 12% of total land, one of the lowest in Europe. England’s tree cover is lower at only 9%. A 10,000 hectare annual planting figure represents a major challenge. The Read Report gave an overall UK target figure of 23,000 hectares of new planting per year over the next 40 years, which along with woodland planted since 1990, could soak up c. 10% of the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by the 2050s. That represents a 4% increase in overall UK tree cover to 16%, but around a 200% increase on current planting rates.
- The Forestry Commission’s Woodfuel Strategy for England:
Sets the target of facilitating the harvesting of an additional 2 million tonnes of wood each year as fuel and other products by 2020. Endorsed by 13 leading environmental & conservation groups from Friends of the Earth, RSPB to the Wildlife Trusts, the strategy will help deliver a lower-carbon economy, bring under-managed woodland into productive rotation, whilst also creating more diverse, beneficial habitat for wildlife.
Additionally funding of woodland creation and management through the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) stands at c. £30m per annum.
- Possible measures to attract private investment:
The Forestry Commission and Defra have been considering whether a guarantee of future payment for carbon sequestered through the growth of new woodland would encourage investors to provide the up-front finance required for woodland creation and to compensate for other income that the land might otherwise have generated.
- Open Habitats Policy:
The area of forest cover to be removed under this policy is minimal compared to the overall area of current planting and that proposed under the new woodland creation – but hugely significant in terms of redressing previous wildlife & biodiversity losses. Between 1999 and 2008, the area of woodland removal reported amounted to about 9,300 hectares. In contrast, woodland creation amounted to nearly 50,000 hectares.
The UK Forestry Standard and the forthcoming Code of Good Practice for Forest Carbon Projects will guide the Woodland Carbon Task Force, ensuring that the principles of sustainable forest management are maintained and that ‘the right trees are planted in the right place for the right reasons.
- Media Contact: Stuart Burgess, 01223 346027, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07785 748351