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3.2 Carbon leakage


  • The land manager shall confirm any intention to change or intensify the use of land elsewhere on the holding as a consequence of the woodland creation.
  • If leakage (landuse change/intensification outside the project boundary but within the UK) is proposed, then projects shall carry out an assessment to determine whether this will result in GHG emissions.
  • If significant GHG emissions occur they shall be quantified for the duration of the project and accounted for in 3.4 net carbon sequestration.  Otherwise leakage is assumed to be 'no change over time'.

Leakage is assessed at validation.  Any changes to the leakage assessment will be checked at each verification.

What is 'Leakage'?

Many international carbon standards involve assessments of leakage, or changes to carbon stocks outside of the project boundary as a result of the project going ahead.  International carbon standards describe two main types of leakage, and their relevance in terms of a woodland creation project is described below:

  • Activity-shifting leakage:  When the activity (agriculture or other) which was taking place on the project site is moved and causes land-use change elsewhere.  In some countries there is concern that this might cause deforestation away from the project site, or degradation of other semi-natural habitats.  These emissions from deforestation or intensification of use of non-wooded land are normally accounted for.
  • Market leakage:  If the presence of the project causes production of a product to be stopped on the project site, forcing additional production elsewhere to ensure the market demand is met.  This tends to be used where a project involves accounting for changes to woodland management and timber production on the project site is stopped or postponed.  In the case of new woodlands, this is not likely to occur since there is no woodland product produced at the site prior to planting.     

Likelihood of leakage of emissions in the UK

Given that the Woodland Carbon Code only deals with woodland creation, only activity-shifting leakage would appear to be relevant.  However, there are a number of laws governing the protection of semi-natural habitats and existing woodlands, so that any activity-shifting leakage within the UK (in terms of intensification of use of land outside the project boundary) is highly unlikely. 
For deforestation:

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (Scotland) Regulations 1999.  Requires an Environmental Impact assessment for any deforestation over 1ha (0.5ha in sensitive areas).
  • Forestry Act 1967.  Requires a felling licence for deforestation.  Unconditional (i.e. no restocking required) felling licences are rare.  There are some exceptions including
    • Very small volumes of timber felled annually by the woodland owner
    • Development granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 or the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
    • Electricity operator

For protection of biodiversity and other semi-natural habitats:

  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and amendments
  • Countryside and Rights of Way Act (England and Wales) 2000, Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, The Conservation Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995


Approach to Leakage in the Woodland Carbon Code

Due to the existing legislation in the UK which protects semi-natural habitats, biodiveristy and also protects against deforestation, the Woodland Carbon Code assumes that in most cases there will be NO LEAKAGE (i.e. leakage = 0, no change over time) in woodland creation projects. 

SMALL PROJECTS (5 ha net planting area or less):  Can assume that there is no leakage.

STANDARD PROJECTS (over 5 ha net planting area): Should consider whether the project will result in more intensive use of another area of land under the same ownership or lessee.  If so, then any significant greenhouse gas emissions through changes in land use or management of the area of land should be accounted for over the project duration (significant is more than 5% of the project carbon sequestration over the duration of the project).  Leakage assessments are likely to be project-specific.  The following guidance should help define the scope of the assessment.

1.  The following carbon pools shall be included:

  • Tree above and below ground biomass
  • Litter and deadwood
  • Non-tree above and below ground biomass
  • Soil
  • Increased emissions from management of the land

2.  Any land-use change or intensification within the UK which can be attributed to the project going ahead should be accounted for.

3.  Only significant greenhouse gas emissions need to be accounted for in the project's net carbon sequestration.  Emissions are considered significant if they amount to more than 5% of the project carbon sequestration over the duration of the project.

4.  Projects can refer to the IPCC 2003 Good Practice Guide for Land Use, Land-Use change and Forestry and the IPCC 2006 Guidelines for national GHG inventories for guidance. 


Last updated: 8th March 2018