Research will support the expansion of treescapes in the UK

View of a tree above at night.

Six major research projects will explore the most effective ways to expand the UK’s trees, hedgerows, woodlands and forests in rural and urban settings.

Forests and other treescapes account for more than 13% of the UK’s land surface, and capture approximately 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This provides an important contribution to the UK’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

They also:

  • reduce flooding
  • improve biodiversity
  • reduce pollution
  • benefit people’s wellbeing.

Expanding woodlands and forests

The six interdisciplinary studies announced have received a share of £3 million funding over the next two years from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Each will improve our understanding of the composition of treescapes in the UK, and their value to people and the planet.

The research will also support the government’s ambition to increase tree cover across the country.

Improving understanding of treescapes

The six projects will:

  • investigate new approaches to woodland expansion, including natural colonisation
  • develop practical tools for farmers to support the expansion of tree planting on agricultural land
  • study the development of agroforestry, which is the growing of trees alongside crops and livestock farming on the same land, in rural areas and surrounding towns and cities
  • establish a web-based tool that will map the risk of woodland and farmland damage caused by deer
  • establish how to bridge the gap between national objectives of net zero and tree planting targets, and how to practically achieve that at a local level
  • understand the potential to diversify the composition of tree species in woodland to increase resilience to climate change, pests and diseases.

Six innovative studies

Involving multidisciplinary teams led by six research institutes, the studies are part of the £15.6 million Future of UK Treescapes Programme.

The programme is designed to answer the ‘what, where, how and for whom’ of treescape expansion and will help us to better safeguard our trees, woods and forests.

The research will also investigate the importance of tree expansion in urban spaces, why we connect with woodlands, and how we encourage landowners and farmers to plant more trees.

Supporting land managers

Julie Urquhart, Associate Professor of Environmental Social Science at the Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, is Ambassador of the programme.

She said:

The UK is one of the least wooded areas of Europe, with only 13% forest cover. They are a precious resource and part of the solution to tackling the climate and ecological emergencies we face.

These new projects will show how we can effectively support those who manage our treescapes to expand these habitats and improve our environment while at the same locking up carbon to tackle climate change.

Achieving net zero

Clive Potter, Professor of Environmental Policy at Imperial College London and joint Ambassador for the Future of Treescapes programme says:

This further set of projects will expand and help refine the work already being conducted via the call one projects.

I’m looking forward to welcoming the new teams into the treescapes research community and working with them to deliver research that will directly inform how we achieve the government’s ambitions for trees, woods and forests in this country.

Protecting woodlands and forests

Professor Sir Duncan Wingham, Executive Chair of the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), part of UKRI, said:

The grants announced today demonstrate UKRI’s commitment to funding excellent, world-leading research that is tackling key environmental, societal and cultural challenges.

The insights gleaned from these projects will support policymakers and landowners as they manage, protect and expand UK woodlands.

The announcement of additional funding for six new projects comes as researchers working on the Future of Treescapes programme meet for their annual conference today.

Find out more about the Future of Treescapes programme. More information is also available at UKRI: future of UK treescapes.

Further information

Funders of the Future of Treescapes programme are:

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

Project summaries

TreE_PlaNat: stakeholder perceptions and socio-ecological consequences of treescape expansion through planting and natural colonisation (£505,510.79)

Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, University of Stirling

This study will investigate a range of approaches to woodland expansion, including tree planting and allowing trees to colonise new areas naturally.

Researchers will:

  • consider how to engage farmers and other land managers in natural woodland expansion on agricultural land
  • build understanding of the social and ecological consequences of natural woodland expansion, including the impact on biodiversity, people’s wellbeing, income generation, and resilience to climate change
  • deliver a coordinated timetable of activities and outputs to demonstrate how tree planting and natural colonisation can be used in combination to scale-up woodland expansion for a range of objectives on agricultural land.

FARM TREE: balancing farm and landscape-scale demands for integrating trees on agricultural land (£506,046.20)

Dr Josie Geris, University of Aberdeen

Researchers leading this study will build on existing agroforestry initiatives and develop practical tools for farmers to enhance the expansion of trees on agricultural land, including:

  • a reference set of planting schemes for farms that are situated on a variety of landscapes, and including detailed information on their environmental effects on the land
  • a web-based tool for farm managers that demonstrates and visualises the optimal schemes for their farms, with an indication of the environmental and socio-economic impacts on the farm’s land and farming business
  • recommendations for government policymakers on the best strategies for planting trees on farmland in the UK
  • a framework for a long-term, co-designed monitoring programme of planting schemes in rural areas.

Agroforestry futures (£491,046.55)

Professor Lynn Fewer, Newcastle University

This study will investigate the development of agroforestry, or the growing of trees alongside crop and livestock farming on the same land, in rural areas and surrounding towns and cities in the UK.

Researchers aim to understand what society wants in the future from UK forests. Whether we can adapt our trees and forests to tackle climate change, the impact of agroforestry on ecosystems, and how best to engage farmers and other stakeholders in the process.

iDeer: an integrated deer management platform (£512,836)

Dr Rebecca Spake, University of Reading

iDeer will co-develop a web-based tool that will map the risk of woodland and farmland damage caused by deer. Deer strip bark from trees, especially in the winter months when food is scarce.

The tool will enable landowners, woodland managers, public forestry bodies, conservation practitioners and advisors to design planting and woodland management plans that reduce the risk of damage caused by deer, which impacts the health of woodland.

The iDeer tool will be co-developed and tested with stakeholders in the Elwy Valley in north Wales and the Northern Forest project, which is planting trees across the north of England.

Partners:

  • Dr Freya St John, Bangor University
  • Dr Graeme Shannon, Bangor University
  • Professor Felix Eigenbrod, University of Southampton
  • Dr Chloe Bellamy, Forest Research
  • Dr Robin Gill, Forest Research
  • Paul Orsi, Sylva Foundation
  • George Dennison, Sylva Foundation
  • Dr Chris Nichols, Woodland Trust
  • Lee Oliver, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

STAND: Overcoming scale-mismatch for designing and governing treescape expansion to benefit people and nature (£504,541)

Dr Tom Finch, RSPB

Woodland creation forms a core part of the UK government’s net zero strategy, with a target to create 30,000 hectares of new woodland per year by 2024.

This study will investigate how these national policies can work on a local and community level, and the barriers to their success.

STAND will use existing datasets to model future scenarios for achieving these national targets, while also considering impacts on food production and birdlife.

Researchers will study the feasibility of achieving national targets in two RSPB priority landscapes, Elenydd-Mallaen in Wales and North Pennines and Dales in England. They will engage with communities and land managers to understand opportunities and barriers to woodland expansion.

DiversiTree: diversifying our woodlands to increase resilience (£516,524.59)

Dr Ruth Mitchell, The James Hutton Institute

Lead by: Dr Ruth Mitchell, The James Hutton Institute.

Collaborators:

  • Dr Norman Dandy, Bangor University
  • Dr Chris Ellis, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Dr Paul Bellamy, RSPB
  • Dr Chris Nichols, The Woodland Trust
  • Professor Rob Jackson, University of Birmingham.

DiversiTree will provide woodland managers with the knowledge and tools required to enable them to increase the resilience of their woodlands to climate change, and pests and diseases. Researchers will do this by assessing the potential to diversify the tree species composition of our woods with both native or non-native species.

DiversiTree’s four main objectives are to:

  • understand how woodland managers and other stakeholders understand woodland diversity, and their ambitions for future woods
  • understand the impact of a diverse tree species mixture on the leaf microbiome and the potential impacts of this for resilience against pathogens
  • understand how diversification of woods can increase the resilience of woodland biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
  • provide practical advice on the methods to, and the impacts of, diversifying tree species composition.

Top image:  Credit: Adam Gasson

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