Reforestation: benefitting biodiversity, as well as climate change

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) MCIEEM on 21/08/2019

There are now calls to plant a trillion trees to combat climate change. We shouldn't forget that such reforestation could (and should) enhance biodiversity as well.     

Complemented by emissions cuts, reforestation has been touted as a potential solution (or partial solution) to climate change, thanks to its ability to sequester carbon. But it is important to ensure that the forests which are planted not only store carbon, but benefit biodiversity too.

Forests should always be planted in the right place, and not at the expense of high biodiversity habitats such as meadows and species-rich grasslands. There are also ways to manage forests to ensure that they are both productive and provide a good home for wild nature. 

 

As a forestry technique, clear-felling has traditionally been employed across the world, including in the UK. This technique in Scotland can provide opportunities for wild cat dens, as well as foraging areas where there is little to no human disturbance. But clear-felling may not be the best method to ensure biodiversity is protected and enhanced within a forest. It can also leave soils exposed on slopes, potentially eroding and damaging this limited resource.

Today more foresters are turning to continuous canopy forestry.  Commonly referred to as "CCF", this approach to the sustainable management of forests sees forest stands maintained in a permanently irregular structure, which is created and sustained through the selection and harvesting of individual trees. As an alternative to clear-felling, this can provide more benefits to biodiversity and soils.

Flexibility is important within CCF, as it aims to restore natural processes and also take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Initial studies have shown that continuous canopy management techniques can provide the same level of harvest productivity  as clear-felling, if they are used in the correct way.

CCF increases the diversity of stands and the age of trees within forests, as well as accommodating mixed species - this can enhance the resilience of the system to climate change. It also leads to the natural regeneration of forests, reducing the need to replant stands that have been clear-felled, thereby lowering costs.

I recently attended a Butterfly Conservation event in Stourhead to learn more about the continuous canopy forestry management currently employed there. From a distance, the forest looked like a standard conifer plantation. But on closer inspection there were trees of various ages, evidence of natural regeneration, and open glade habitat.

Butterfly Conservation are currently assessing the impact of CCF on biodiversity, monitoring moth populations at 60 plots to record biodiversity changes within the forest.

Ecosulis are looking to apply the Biodiversity Quality Calculator to analyse this data, highlighting the biodiversity change under both traditional management and closed canopy woodland management scenarios. This will provide quantitative and robust data to assist with forest management decision-making - in Stourhead, across the UK and internationally. This, in turn, will ensure that reforestation and forest management enhances biodiversity, soils and carbon capture, as well as the enjoyment of forest lovers, the world over.

 

For more information about our Biodiversity Quality Calculator, please contact Sara King, Biodiversity Assessment Specialist sara.king@ecosulis.co.uk