Woodland currently covers 13% of total land surface in the UK, the lowest in Europe. Of this, just 2% is ancient semi-natural woodland.
The UK government has set a target to plant 30,000 hectares of new trees in the UK each year as part of the effort to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Foundation will be increasing the tree cover within the Wye and Usk catchment too, through individual tree and woodland planting.
It is important to make clear that our tree planting work will take place across the catchments, not along river corridors. Much of the Foundation’s early work involved thinning trees along river corridors that had become over-shaded. This produced dappled shade, allowing more light to enter the rivers and enabling plants and algae to grow, kick-starting the ecosystem. More information on this work can be found in Habitat Restoration.
Rivers that have no trees along their banks can benefit from tree planting, however. The extra shade is a good defence against the effects of climate change.
The benefits planting more trees in the Wye & Usk catchments
For rivers, the benefits are improved water, both quality and quantity. Trees can help slow the flow of run-off through enhanced processes of interception and infiltration. They can also act as a buffer, trapping sediment and pollutants to reduce the impact of pollution on rivers.
For the wider environment, the benefits are:
- Carbon sequestration – trees take in carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away.
- Maintaining and enhancing biodiversity – trees are great for wildlife, creating habitats and acting as stepping stones to allow greater connectivity for wildlife to thrive.
- Protecting soil health and reducing soil erosion – Trees help reduce the movement and loss of soils and improve the water-holding capacity through increased organic matter from added leaf litter which improves soil structure.
- Increase ecosystem resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (e.g. climate change).
- Cultural services – serving local needs for health, education and jobs.
Right tree, in the right place, at the right time
To achieve these benefits, it is crucial that we stick to the approach of planting ‘the right tree in the right place at the right time’. Recent research has suggested that planting trees in areas where the soil is already rich in organic matter, such as peatland, can actually result in a net loss of carbon to the atmosphere (Friggens et al., 2020).
The Foundation supports the planting of the right trees in the right places. The Natural Capital department has compiled a series of datasets to enable us to identify areas suitable for floodplain, riparian, and wider catchment tree planting. Tree planting in these areas should provide multiple environmental benefits, especially to the rivers.
By overlaying multiple datasets from different sources we can identify areas which would be most suitable for tree planting/woodland creation. Aspects considered when “opportunity mapping” include:
- Flood risk mapping
- Overland flow mapping (using SCIMAP)
- Agricultural land classification
- Foundation soil data
- Habitat data
- Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales opportunity layers
The following maps are a few examples of the spatial data we use to identify potential tree planting opportunities on a catchment scale:
Tree Planting Initiatives:
- Welsh Government:
- Planting target of 43,000 new hectares of woodland in next 9 years.
- Committed to ‘National Forest for Wales’: a connected network of woodlands across Wales.
- Glastir Woodland Creation scheme: Grants (up to £9,000 per ha) to encourage farmers and landowners to deliver woodland planting.
- Government targets 7000ha new woodland planting in England per year by 2024.
- DEFRA and the Forestry Commission: £15.9 million available in new ‘England Woodland Creation Offer’ grant scheme, with additional contributions available for tree planting next to watercourses or tree planting for Natural Flood Management (NFM).
- £1.4 million has been awarded to the Environment Agency to fund ‘woodlands for water’ – 15 projects to plant over 850,000 trees that will protect around 160km of river and help to reduce the risk of flooding to over 500 properties.
We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery for supporting this area of our work.