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Carbon Driving Woodland Creation

May 4, 2021


Alice Brawley, Woodland Creation and Carbon Developer at Forest Direct, reflects on the role of woodland creation for carbon capture in today’s climate.

Seeing Beyond the Carbon

With tree planting used as a bartering tool in the last general election, David Attenborough’s ‘act now’ messages filling our TV screens, and the Scottish Government announcing a climate emergency, it is no wonder tree planting for carbon capture has taken the world by storm. Trees have a remarkable ability to suck CO2 from the atmosphere, allowing forests to offer significant climate mitigation benefits.  

However, trees are important in their own right and it is vital we do not see the carbon before the tree.

  • Biodiversity – Old growth Caledonian Pine Forests and Ancient Atlantic Oak woodlands used to coat our landscapes. Anyone who has visited their remnants today will understand the importance of protecting and enhancing these biodiverse ecosystems. Letting woodlands mature will allow an abundance of plant flora and wildlife to take refuge, and these old-growth forests sequester more carbon over the long-term.
  • Resource – Trees have been used as a vital energy and material resource for centuries. Previously used locally by communities for charcoal and tanning industries, today timber is an important building and energy resource. As we transition to a zero-carbon economy, low-environmental impact or recyclable materials will be favoured over plastic and concrete. The construction industry will prioritise timber and a considerable increase in demand is anticipated.

Today, Scotland’s forestry industry is at a shifting point. We recognise we are the second-largest net importer of wood in the world, despite having wide growing conditions and space in much of the country for forests.  The monoculture plantations which coat our landscapes are no longer acceptable and we must design diverse forests which fit their surroundings and are resilient to climate change.

We have great potential to grow local and sustainable trees to meet our timber demands and reduce our reliance on imported material. We must also transform the image of productive forestry in Scotland to one that welcomes diversity, encourages a mixture of silvicultural practices, and changes how we view production to centre it around longevity, sustainability, and people.

  • People – The Covid-19 pandemic has brought home to all of us the importance of nature for our mental and physical wellbeing. We need more woodlands that nourish people and offer accessible recreational opportunities.

Carbon As An Enabler

Background to Woodland Carbon Code

At Forest Direct, we see carbon as a tool to facilitate greater woodland creation. This is driven through the Woodland Carbon Code, a government-backed voluntary UK standard that offers additional financial support to those thinking about planting new woodlands. It relies on a carbon market whereby carbon emitters (individuals, companies) invest in woodland creation projects to reduce their carbon emissions.

New woodland creation schemes designed for certification under the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) deliver a commitment to carbon capture. The calculations which estimate the carbon potential of a woodland are well-researched and incredibly conservative. Many safeguards are built-in, including the retention of a 20% buffer to account for any unavoidable losses and to safeguard the investments made. This means you can rest assured your woodland is leaving a legacy that will benefit our planet and future generations in years to come.

The WCC benefits landowners by facilitating additional income streams to support this permanent change in land use to woodland. This is achieved by converting the captured carbon to carbon units. These are defined as either:

  • Pending Insurance Units (PIUs) – this is the predicted carbon that will be sequestered in the woodland. These can be sold immediately upon validation with the WCC, therefore helping with cash flow imbalances during the woodland establishment phase.
  • Woodland Carbon Units (WCUs) – this is the true carbon sequestered in the woodland. PIU’s get converted to WCU’s at each verification stage and reflects the CO2 physically locked away in the trees. Most projects will not have WCU’s to sell until the woodland is 15 or 25 years old. Selling of WCUs can therefore offer financial support over the long-term.

Design considerations

Since the Woodland Carbon Code is a voluntary market, meaning it relies on businesses actively deciding to offset their carbon emissions, they determine what they pay for the carbon units. As a result, it is both intrinsically and financially advantageous to design woodlands that bring multiple benefits. Most buyers of woodland carbon units want a powerful story to complement their purchase. This embodies various social and ecological benefits including:

  • Building in paths for recreational use.
  • Creating strong native woodland river zones, referred to as ‘riparian habitats’ for flood mitigation and invertebrate/amphibian habitat creation.
  • Native woodland creation for wildlife.
  • Planning for continuous cover forest management allows timber to be utilised while maintaining woodland ecosystem structure, preserving soils and habitat created, and negating the need to replant in the future.
  • Job creation (innovative approaches include community harvesting schemes).


Woodland Carbon Code logo

Recent changes to Woodland Carbon Code

The woodland carbon market is evolving rapidly. Between 2019 and 2020 the number of schemes registered with the Woodland Carbon Code doubled. In response, the Woodland Carbon Code process is also evolving. A recent update to come into effect on July 1st 2021 is the requirement for projects to be registered before planting commences. This no doubt ensures the WCC was a true incentive behind encouraging woodland creation, and schemes were not retrospectively fitted.

Forest Direct’s Role

Forest Direct is made up of experienced and passionate foresters, ecologists, landscape advisors and nature enthusiasts. We design woodlands which (1) suit the site; (2) fit the landowner; (3) support and encourage biodiversity and (4) expand Scotland’s potential for growing local, sustainable timber.

If you are a farmer, landowner or community group interested in woodland creation and the Woodland Carbon Code please:

We can fix the mistakes of the past. To integrate trees into our landscapes in a way that is socially, environmentally, and economically advantageous. Are you on board?