Six research teams across the UK have been awarded £10.5 million to develop new tools and approaches to trees and woodlands to help the UK reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The research will also improve our understanding of the value of trees to people and the planet, and support the expansion of treescapes across the UK.

The funding from UK Research and Innovation will support research to:

  • Understand how local authorities are meeting their tree planting targets, the cultural significance of trees to communities and how well they capture greenhouse gases;
  • Work creatively with young people to co-produce new approaches to creating and caring for treescapes that benefit the environment and society;
  • Investigate how trees respond to stress and pass on that memory to future generations;
  • Assess the potential of woodland restoration along over 200,000 km of England’s rivers and bodies of water
    examine how community forests enable stakeholders to work in partnership to deliver multiple benefits from forests;
  • Study whether trees can adapt effectively to climate change, pests and diseases.

The projects will be 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 & Hydrology.

Nature-based climate solutions

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.

Currently, 13% of the UK is covered by woodland; however, the UK government has pledged to plant millions of trees every year in the coming decades.

However, woodlands 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.

Forestry Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said: "I am delighted to be supporting this new research programme, which will emphasise the importance of treescapes and help deliver our tree planting ambitions.

"In the run-up to COP26, this is an exciting opportunity to showcase how the UK’s cutting-edge science can deepen our understanding of the health and environmental benefits provided by trees while ensuring they are protected for future generations.

"Supporting and championing the projects are the programme ambassadors Prof. 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."

Prof. Potter said: "Threats to and the 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."

Prof. Sir. Duncan Wingham, executive chair of NERC, part of UK Research and Innovation, added: "Our trees and forests are a precious resource and part of the solution to tackling the climate and ecological emergencies we face and helping the UK reach net zero in 2050.

This research will increase our understanding of the huge societal, economic, cultural and environmental benefits associated with treescapes. This includes the importance of trees in urban spaces, why we connect with forests, and how we encourage landowners and farmers to plant more trees.

"This knowledge will help us identify where and how we can expand our woodlands and ensure their resilience to pressures and stresses over decades and centuries."