UK plans reforestation campaign to meet climate target

Seeing the forest for the trees: Britain's National Trust to embark on major tree-planting campaign.

    Some 20 million trees will be planted in the British countryside to help offset carbon emissions [Toby Melville/Reuters]
    Some 20 million trees will be planted in the British countryside to help offset carbon emissions [Toby Melville/Reuters]

    The United Kingdom is set to get swaths of new forests in a campaign to plant 20 million trees over the coming 10 years.

    The National Trust is planning the new woodland scheme as part of efforts to achieve "net zero" carbon emissions by 2030 to fight climate change.

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    The heritage organisation, which cares for much of the UK's countryside, coasts, castles and stately homes, said it will be one of the country's biggest-ever woodland expansion and tree planting projects.

    "It's our 125th year and the National Trust has always been here for the benefit of everyone," said director-general Hilary McGrady.

    "That is why we are making these ambitious announcements in response to what is needed from our institution today.

    The project will cost around 90-100 million pounds ($117m-$130m).

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    By the end of the decade, the new trees and regeneration of woods will add forest coverage of more than 18,000 hectares (44,000 acres), nearly 70 square miles - an area equivalent to 42 Sherwood Forests, famed for its legendary resident, Robin Hood.

    It is a level of tree cover which the charity says is needed on a nationwide basis to meet government targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and will deliver additional benefits such as public access and habitats for nature.

    During the recent election campaign, the opposition Labour party had pledged to plant no fewer than two billion trees in the coming 20 years, while creating new national parks as part of a rewilding process.

    Just 17 percent of Britons live in non-urban areas, according to government statistics, despite rural areas making up around 90 percent of the nation's land. Forests, beaches and moors cover 24 percent of Britain.

    The focus of the National Trust project will be on planting on farmland - including in upland areas - that the trust owns, rather than in country estates, but McGrady said they would be working with farmers to deliver the targets.

    Other initiatives to help the nearly six-million-member trust achieve net zero emissions include maintaining peat bogs, which like trees absorb and store carbon, investing in more renewable energy, and cutting its carbon footprint.

    People need nature now more than ever. If they connect with it then they look after it. And working together is the only way we can reverse the decline in wildlife and the challenges we face due to climate change

    Hilary McGrady, National Trust

    "As Europe's biggest conservation charity, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to fight climate change, which poses the biggest threat to the places, nature and collections we care for," said McGrady.

    "People need nature now more than ever. If they connect with it then they look after it. And working together is the only way we can reverse the decline in wildlife and the challenges we face due to climate change."

    Efforts will focus on the National Trust's own pollution, but McGrady acknowledged the impact of visitors, many of whom travel by car to the organisation's properties.

    She said the trust was beginning to try and measure the impact of visitor emissions and find ways to encourage more sustainable transport.

    The charity, which was founded in the 19th century to protect and care for natural and historic places, also said it plans to work with other organisations to create "green corridors" that connect people in urban areas to nature.

    It will also continue work to protect nature, such as clean up rivers and reintroduce species such as water voles and beavers, McGrady said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies