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Climate change: UK forests 'could do more harm than good'

Mass tree planting in the UK could harm the environment if not planned properly, a report warns. Badly-planned trees would increase greenhouse gas emissions, say the government’s advisers on the economic value of the natural environment. The report comes from the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), which says planting trees into peat bogs would prove a serious mistake. Peat locks up vast quantities of carbon, but trees dry out peat. This can release more greenhouse gases than the trees absorb.
One NCC member, Prof Ian Bateman from the University of Exeter, said: “The mantra has to be ‘the right tree in the right place. We would be crazy to undertake the massive scale of planting being considered if we did not also consider the wider effects upon the environment including impacts on wildlife, benefits in terms of reducing flood risks and effects on water quality, improvements to recreation and so on.”

The report adds that carpeting upland pastures with trees would reduce the UK’s ability to produce meat – which may lead to increasing imports from places that produce beef by felling rainforests. It also makes a similar point on industry. There’s no point closing dirty UK factories, the authors say, if we’re then going to import goods from places with worse emissions.
The authors note that huge publicity has been given to the UK’s plans for planting 11 million trees to lock up carbon emissions, but they warn that conserving carbon in soils is equally or more important.

The report points out that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that in 2007 UK soils contained approximately 4,019 million tonnes of carbon (MtC), that’s 94.2% of the total stock of biological carbon, excluding fossil fuel carbon.

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