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Woodlands are for wildlife, not just carbon

Last modified: 27 July 2011

Oak sapling

Planting trees in the UK to offset carbon emissions will not solve climate problems and must not put wildlife at risk, conservationists have warned.

The Forestry Commission has today published its new Woodland Carbon Code, to provide guidelines for companies who plant trees and then sell ‘carbon credits’ to industry and individuals who want to become carbon neutral.

Although the RSPB does not support the use of voluntary carbon offsets, it has welcomed the development of standards for the industry - but says the code could do more for wildlife.

The practice of carbon offsetting is becoming more popular and has caused concern amongst conservationists who believe that woodlands provide many more benefits to nature than simply sequestering carbon.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director said: “Climate change is a major issue for people and wildlife but we must push for a real reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions, rather than the lazy option of simply ‘offsetting’ them after we have released them into the atmosphere.

“The important thing to remember is that woodlands are not just carbon sponges – they are also vital in supporting a range of threatened wildlife and providing places for us to enjoy the outdoors. They must also be planted in the right places – much of our wildlife rich natural landscapes such as lowland heathland have been destroyed by irresponsible, poorly planned tree planting.

“It is important that any new woodland planted under this code is carefully located, designed and managed to protect and enhance biodiversity and other public benefits. It is right that the code places sustainable forestry planted with people and wildlife in mind at its core, rather than seeking to maximise the capture of carbon in environmentally questionable ways.”

Planting trees is not the only way to sequester carbon. Peat bogs and saltmarsh, for example, have a vital role in storing carbon whilst also providing a habitat for many rare species of birds, insects and plants 

Martin added: “Unfortunately this code does not go far enough when it comes to promoting the restoration of some important wildlife habitats like peat bogs. 

“UK forestry has a vital role in addressing climate change, not by planting new woodlands, but by restoring peat bogs that were inappropriately drained and planted with forestry. These important carbon stores can and should be restored, both to help tackle climate change, as well as to provide important sites for wildlife.”

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