Global Agriculture

Hutton Scientists to Examine How Trees Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the UK

10 August 2021, UK: Researchers from the James Hutton Institute will contribute to one of six research teams tasked with developing new tools and approaches to help trees and woodlands adapt to climate change and enable the UK to reach the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Trees, woodlands and forests play a vital role removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and nurturing biodiversity. Scotland is currently covered by 19% woodland with the UK Government pledging to plant millions of trees every year over the coming decades.

Expanding the UK’s trees, woodlands and forests will play an important role in realising the Government’s ambition to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, treescapes also need to become more resilient to pressures such as changing climate, disease, and competing demands for land in order to reverse decades of decline in biodiversity and environmental quality.

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The projects involved in the Future of UK Treescapes programme will receive a share of £10.5 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to understand how local authorities are meeting their tree planting targets, improving wellbeing and capturing greenhouse gases. The research outcomes will also provide an insight into the value of trees to people and the planet.

The Hutton research team will co-lead work to determine the rates at which some of our most important tree species are able to adapt to a changing environment. The team will also look at whether interventions needed to increase adaptation of trees affect the communities associated with them.

Dr Jenni Stockan, a research scientist within the Institute’s Ecological Sciences department, said: “The species associated with trees are crucial to how they function. If interventions bias in favour of pathogens or disease-vectors, then we could be increasing the risks to our trees.”

Professor Alison Hester, a senior research scientist at the Institute added: “I am delighted to be part of this exciting new programme and really looking forward to working with such a great team.”

This November, the UK Government will host the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow where countries will be expected to set out their plans for reaching net zero by 2050. The Future of UK Treescapes programme will contribute its evidence to help policymakers and land managers expand our treescapes and reach this target.

Supporting and championing the projects are the Programme Ambassadors, Professor Clive Potter of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, and Dr Julie Urquhart of the Countryside & Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire.

Professor Potter said: “Threats to and vital role of treescapes have never been clearer. The UK government is creating ambitious policies and targets towards increasing tree cover and managing tree health, but better evidence of how to achieve this is crucial in underpinning the success of such initiatives.”

Dr Urquhart added: “We wanted to encourage new interdisciplinary collaborations that would develop potential pioneering projects that will shape and deepen our understanding of the environmental, social, cultural and economic value of trees, woods and forests to society for years to come. This programme and its projects is the partnering with stakeholders from policy, land ownership and civil society, to ensure the outcomes have direct application to achieving climate change, nature recovery and wellbeing goals.”

The six projects are led by the University of York, Manchester Metropolitan University, Loughborough University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Manchester and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Notes to editors:

Involving thirteen universities and research institutes, over 40 non-academic partners and supporters, and with funding for three years, the £14.5 million Future of UK Treescapes Programme, involves:

  • Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC)
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Welsh Government
  • Scottish Government
  • Forestry Commission