Research on managing forest carbon and greenhouse gas balances


Forests contain substantial carbon in the soil, trees and other vegetation. Forests are both sources and sinks for several different greenhouse gases (GHG), and forestry offers substantial GHG emissions mitigation potential. Understanding the UK forestry GHG balance is critically important to inform policy and planning decisions and to meet national and international GHG emissions targets and reporting requirements.

Diagram showing the main organic C stock components and fluxes between components in forestry. C enters the forest through photosynthesis, and is lost from forests via respiration, disturbance and harvesting, and leaching of organic carbon in the soil. C is lost from harvested wood products outside the forest and in landfill by decay and combustion. Vegetation other than trees is not shown, nor leachate losses from landfill.

This Forestry Commission (FC) funded, multidisciplinary research programme started in 2009/10, drawing together several related existing research projects to tackle these key research questions.

Programme outline

This research programme will provide the scientific evidence base to enable the FC to report UK forest carbon stocks reliably, to understand how they will change with climate change, and to recommend appropriate management and policy for the UK forestry sector.

We are quantifying the GHG balance and economic consequences of different forest management practices and operations, the role of woodland creation and the contribution of forest products and bioenergy. We are also working on national and international calculation and reporting of carbon stocks and setting standards for forest carbon assessment methods.

Underpinned by fundamental field based research, our research is contributing to forest carbon and climate change science and is disseminating information and developing tools on forestry carbon and GHG balances to the forestry sector including policy makers, stakeholders and forest managers.

The programme has 5 main work areas:

Measuring and understanding stand-scale GHG fluxes and processes

This includes much of our research at the long-term Straits Inclosure C flux site, Harwood Forest GHG balance study site research on soil and whole stand fluxes of CH4 and N2 and  process modelling of C and GHG fluxes.

Forest management effects on GHG balances

Research on the changes in soil C after afforestation under conventional silviculture, newer forms such as continuous cover forestry and with short rotation forestry establishment. We are also assessing C and GHG balances of different forest operations (e.g. ground preparation, thinning, harvesting, road building), and examining relatively new practices such as stump harvesting, and peatbog restoration.

Forestry C and GHG policy, modelling and economic assessment

Development and use of ‘forest C accounting models’ to improve stand-scale and national forestry C balance estimates and for optimising management and policy decisions. Development of robust forest C assessment protocols and methods. Analysis and assessment of cost effectiveness of forest measures to mitigate GHG emissions.

Communication and knowledge exchange, advice and liaison

Disseminate information and results from the programme across a variety of users and stakeholders; from technical reports, through academic journals, professional and industry communications to seminars, conferences and workshops.

Programme management and development

Management and coordination of the programme, and its development through links with collaborators, and through external funding opportunities.

Programme objectives

  • Deliver a strong scientific evidence base integrating information about C and other GHG balances for woodlands, forests and forestry to guide policy and practice.
  • Provide  estimates of forest C stocks and GHG fluxes and emissions caused by forestry operations and elsewhere in the wood chain, in order to support the current forestry sector GHG inventory, and provide forecasts of future forestry GHG balances.
  • Support estimates by field measurements and process modelling to target major gaps in understanding of forestry GHG balances and the effect of climate and management.
  • Analyse the benefits, costs and relative cost-effectiveness of different woodland and forest creation and management options for GHG balances.
  • Develop fundamental principles and standards to inform the management of GHG balances across the forestry and wood processing sector.
  • Inform discussions over the optimal use of the woodland resource for mitigation as part of ecosystem service provision, considering future climate conditions.
  • Produce integrated GHG balance calculation ‘tools’, up-to-date knowledge resources and information for stakeholders, in particular to inform reporting requirements, to assist meeting emissions reductions targets and other national, country and sector GHG management objectives and initiatives (e.g. Woodland Carbon Code ), and to support the development of the UK Forestry Standard.

Funders and partners

Forestry Commission logo
The core programme is funded by the Managing Forest Carbon and GHG Balances Forestry Commission research programme.

There are close links to several other Forest Research programmes:

  • Forest hydrology & soils
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Land use and ecosystem services  and economics.

The programme links to externally-funded research projects on:

  • C and GHG balances of short rotation forestry (funded by the ETI)
  • C benefits of woodland creation in Scotland (Scottish Forestry Alliance)
  • LULUCF reporting for UK (led by CEH).

There are research links with several UK Universities:

  • Edinburgh
  • York
  • Bangor
  • Aberdeen
  • Reading
  • Cambridge.


For further information contact:

James Morison