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Adapt or Die: Climate Change & Woodland

Date: 2006

Evidence type: Research

Organisation: Woodland Trust

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The Woodland Trust believes that climate change is the biggest threat to the UK's native woodland. This booklet summarises for those actively engaged in climate change and environmental policy the complex interdependencies between forests and climate and why our view of forests and woods must change. It describes the adaptive measures we believe are necessary for woodland in the UK to remain resilient in the face of climate change and to offer a higher quality, more sustainable environment for everyone.

Key Messages

Global deforestation accounts for 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Forests are of crucial importance in the global carbon cycle, both as sources and sinks for atmospheric CO2.  


In the northern hemisphere and particularly in temperate areas, increases in CO2 may enable forests to grow faster because of increased photosynthesis, leading to additional uptake of carbon by forests. But hopes that climate change could mean increased forest productivity may be misplaced since an increase in temperature also increases respiration by plants and can speed breakdown of soil organic matter, both of which release CO2 to the atmosphere.

Sequestration - forests as carbon sinks.

Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere using roots as well as leaves and needles. Undisturbed forest soils also accumulate organic matter that in turn stores carbon. Creating new forests as carbon sinks, as a method of mitigating climate change, is consequently a potentially attractive option.  


However, for the UK to become carbon neutral, through forestry planting alone, would require an area of 50 million hectares. This is twice the land area of the UK.

Green infrastructure type
Woodland; Trees
Climate change role/function
Non-specific mitigation role/function; Carbon storage and sequestration

Climate change will impact upon forest habitats and the species they support, by disrupting species life cycles, altering interactions between species, and necessitating species either adapt or move to more suitable climatic and habitat conditions.

We cannot think of individual woods or nature reserves without consideration of the wider landscape. We must promote opportunities for movement and adaptation of species within the landscape, and create new landscapes that make this possible.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Woodland
Climate change role/function
Helping other species to adapt

Experience overseas shows that when water catchements are denuded of their vegetation cover in winter through the intensification of land use, flash flooding and soil erosion are often the result.

By working with nature, adaptation strategies attempt to reduce the frequency and intensity of these events, for instance, by planting woodland and re-creating grassland. In a country like Britain with such low woodland cover,it is ironic and almost negligent, that there is not more research underway to investigate the potentially positive impacts that afforestation of water catchments and floodplain woodland would have in relieving flood risk and benefiting both wildlife and society.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Woodland; Grassland, heathland and moorland
Climate change role/function
Non-specific adaptation role/function; Managing riverine flooding; Managing surface water; Reducing soil erosion; Helping other species to adapt

Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems allow the water to be collected in features where it can drain away naturally, while also adding to the visual interest and biodiversity value of urban areas.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure
Climate change role/function
Managing surface water; Helping other species to adapt

An adaptation strategy must be compiled.

The following steps must form part of an adaptation strategy:  

- Preventing any further loss of semi-natural habitats,  

- Restoring all woodland and other semi-natural habitats, which have been planted with non-native conifer plantations  

- Targeting habitat creation in areas where there is the greatest potential for woodland biodiversity to expand and survive  

- Reducing the negative effects of intensive land use on semi-natural habitats by creating protective 'buffers'  

- Reducing the intensity of the land-use between semi-natural habitats, increasing the ability of wildlife to move through the landscape  

- Continuing to regenerate woodland or create new woodland with 'native' or naturalised species.

Green infrastructure type
Non-specific green infrastructure; Woodland; Trees
Climate change role/function
Helping other species to adapt
Document Analysis


Level of document
Geographical area to which document refers
United Kingdom
Is 'green infrastructure' mentioned?
Relevant to climate change...
Is it relevant to other (non-climate change) benefits of green infrastructure?
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