Businesses must do more to accelerate reforestation and biodiversity

Carbon offsetting has long been a focus of corporate sustainability initiatives, but a recent study conducted by HSBC and the Business School at Imperial College London reveals a concerning trend. Only 6% of these initiatives prioritise biodiversity conservation, signaling a significant oversight in our efforts to protect ancient forests and natural landscapes and to safeguard UK biodiversity – all of which are part of the global effort to combat climate change.

The state of biodiversity in the UK is alarming, with the country being one of the most nature-depleted in the world. Ranking in the bottom 10% in terms of biodiversity loss, the UK has a mere 13% tree cover, one of the lowest percentages in Europe. Disturbingly, one in four native mammal species, including water voles, hedgehogs, and dormice, face the risk of extinction. But our work at the Heart of England Forest shows that change is possible and doesn’t have to take decades – it is already yielding positive results.

Recent surveys conducted in the Forest recorded 31 butterfly species, including two high-priority species, the brown hairstreak and small heath. Moreover, the presence of more than 100 ponds throughout the Forest serves as a lifeline for endangered species. Notably, our efforts have identified at least 12 ponds as habitats for great crested newts, a legally protected species due to their endangered status. The Bioblitz we conducted in Middle Spernal last summer unveiled over 25 species in the ponds, including water spiders, diving beetles, and dragonfly larvae, while bird, bat, and dragonfly surveys observed a further 29 species in the vicinity.

Reforestation and conservation initiatives such as the ones led by our team offer multiple benefits beyond biodiversity conservation. They also act as carbon sinks, effectively helping to mitigate climate change. Trees contribute to water purification and act as natural flood alleviators, reducing the risk of devastating inundations. But we cannot achieve this alone.

Businesses have a crucial role to play in creating a positive environmental legacy and must look beyond carbon offsetting and tree planting initiatives to achieve this – it’s not only the right thing to do for the planet but has proven to be good for business. A study by Bain & Company and EcoVadis covering 80,000 private and 20,000 listed companies globally found a strong correlation between sustainability efforts and profitability. Businesses striving for sustainability recorded revenue growth and earnings without a negative impact on financial performance. The study also highlighted a positive correlation between employee satisfaction and revenue growth, with businesses having the most satisfied employees experiencing up to 6% higher growth compared to their counterparts.

One corporate partner that we work with at the Heart of England Forest is a large utility company, which is a prime example of a company motivated to look beyond just focusing on carbon offsetting and tree planting. Recently, they supported us with our plastic-free tree planting trial at Spernal Hall Farm, which is allowing the forestry team to explore alternatives to plastic in our landscape scale creation work. This will benefit our long-term sustainable plans and allow us to share our findings with peers in the forestry industry. The company recognises that a long-term partnership is a mutually beneficial way to work – committing to six years initially. This gives the charity sustainability, security and helps with our future planning. and means that they are making a meaningful difference to one organisation’s mission and work – making real impact.

By incorporating sustainability into core strategies, businesses can lead the way in reforestation and biodiversity conservation. Responsible sourcing practices, research and development for sustainable alternatives, and setting ambitious sustainability targets can inspire others to follow suit. By creating a positive environmental legacy, businesses not only contribute to the well-being of our planet but also strengthen reputations and long-term viability.

While the Heart of England Forest may still be relatively small compared with some of the planet’s greatest and oldest ecosystems, the successes we have had to date in creating and restoring habitats that can support a huge variety of life, including at-risk species, demonstrate what is possible on a greater scale given the resources and priority necessary to create change.

As we strive to limit global temperature rise, it is crucial to recognise the interconnection and mutual reinforcement of reforestation, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation. By prioritising the preservation of nature and rapidly scaling up reforestation efforts, we can make significant contributions to mitigating climate change while preserving biodiversity.

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