Multi-million-pound government funding boost for researchers exploring climate and social benefits of trees
Six research projects, assessing the role of woodlands in creating a sustainable future in the UK, have been selected to receive a share of a new £10.5m Government fund.
The funding is being provided as part of the Future of UK Treescapes Programme, which was first announced last year, with the Government committing £14.5m. Now, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced that it will provide £10.5m of this funding, allocating it to projects seeking to quantify the benefits associated with trees.
UKRI’s approach will be to allocate funding across six projects across the UK. The findings from all six of the teams will be presented to policymakers and other groups making decisions about the future of land-use in the UK, in the hopes that they will inform decision-making that brings benefits for people and the environment.
Collectively, the six projects convene experts from 13 institutes and 40 non-academic research partners, including the Forestry Commission, the National Environmental Research Council (NERC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the UK Government’s Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Focus points will be the benefits of woodland to public health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate mitigation, climate adaptation and community connection. One of the projects will also explore how children and young people perceive and connect with trees, exploring how education can be improved and how conservation schemes can involve the next generations.
Environment Minister 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.”
The announcement from UKRI comes at a delicate moment. Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group 1 released a major new report assessing the extent of physical changes to the climate as a result of human activity, covering past, present and likely future impacts. It warns that humanity may need to go beyond net-zero by 2050 to achieve the Paris Agreement, but that the ability of natural systems to sequester carbon will likely diminish in the coming decades due to historical and ongoing degradation.
On a UK level, Defra this month released figures showing that some 2,200 hectares of trees were planted in England during the 2020-2021 financial year, down from 2,340 hectares the year prior. Cumulatively, these figures represent just 14% of the national tree-planting targets.
Back in February, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta published the results of an independent, global review into the true economic value of nature and biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Government two years prior.
The paper, known as the Dasgupta Review, is believed to be as influential as the Stern Review was for climate science. It outlines how HM Treasury and other Government departments can reverse historic declines in biodiversity, delivering positive outcomes for nature, climate, people and the economy. This will need to involve factoring the true value of nature in at every stage of the decision-making process for all major policy changes and infrastructure projects.
Since the paper was published, Defra has committed to ensuring that all large infrastructure projects are “nature-positive”, generating more good than harm. With updates to the Environment Bill due within the coming 12 months, time will tell whether the commitment will be enshrined in a manner deemed ambitious enough by green groups.
The UK Government is also part of the development of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework. Similarly to the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the framework will help businesses to quantify their risks from nature degradation in a variety of future scenarios.
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