Monday, November 30, 2009

Combating climate change?

The recent spate of media activity on climate change is rapidly turning me into a grumpy old man, so I thought I would get some of it off my chest here.

My spleen was first activated by an 'independent' report for the Forestry Commission by Sir David Read et al. which seems to want to go back to the mid-20th century with a huge tree planting programme recommended in order to increase carbon capture.

I wonder where these new woods will go.  Agricultural land is likely to be needed if we are going to get halfway towards feeding ourselves, so this leaves hills, mountains, heaths, moors and bogs etc., all places that the Forestry Commission has afforested, or tried to afforest, in the past.  Remember the Flow Country?

In the case of bogs Paul Simons, writing in The Times today (30 November 2009), has pointed out that these absorb hugely more carbon than trees.  See this link.

I also get unnaturally depressed by the emerging vogue for planting trees.  Millions, apparently, will be required.  Where will they come from?  Presumably, unless they are imported, there will have to be quantities of tree nurseries (many perhaps, run by the Forestry Commission).  Good for employment and rural economies no doubt.

If fields and other land is abandoned it will, of course, turn into woodland quite quickly and of its own accord in most parts of Britain .  The Woodland Trust, with the blessing of the Forestry Commission, is already planting their new Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire, though they must be aware of the two famous woods, Broadbalk and Geesecroft Wildernesses at the nearby Rothampsted Experimental Station that have developed on deliberately abandoned fields to mature mixed woodland without a seed being sown or a tree planted.  Trouble is, not many people were employed in creating these places - nature did it.

Not many people are employed either in making and maintaining bogs so, however much carbon they capture, I fear they will take second place to the new woods and forests, especially as the latter make much better copy for the public relations officers.

In addition to this emerging plantation psychology, the Forestry Commission is waving the flag for the introduction of various exotic species such as the Serbian spruce (Picea omorika) and the shining gum (Eucalyptus nitens).  Most of their list will, of course, be inedible to British wildlife as well as looking totally out of place in the British countryside, but it might give the FC greater control on British forestry and move the industry away from the, to them, irritating areas of conservation and biodiversity into a more disciplined industrial and commercial operation.

Talking about trees also skates round the importance of other kinds of vegetation in capturing carbon and I would not be surprised if an abandoned field garners just as much C as one planted with, say, Nordmann fir.  And the field would be a veritable wonderland for wildlife as it went through its various successional stages.


Read, D.J., Freer-Smith, P.H., Morison, J.I.L., Hanley, N., West, C.C. and Snowdon, P. (eds) (2009) 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. The synthesis report. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh.  (Also on-line).