While the whole of Britain was initially covered by dense forests, population growth, industrialisation and economic development gradually reduced woodland cover primarily through conversion into agriculture land. By the First and Second World Wars, the forest cover was reduced to only about 5% of the land area or just 1 million hectares.
In 1919 the Forestry Commission was created and given the task to carry out reforestation to ensure future wood supply. After the Second World War, in 1945, the Forestry Act was enacted, targeting 2 million hectares of productive woodland by 2000. Current forest cover is 3.25 million hectares or 13%, and the official target is to increase forest cover by a further 1 million hectares to 17% by 2050. This is driven by the UK’s Net Zero Strategy (2021), and requires 30,000 ha of new planting each year.
Recently, the UK farming minister raised a concern about whether forestry carbon projects are reducing arable farmland for food production. The Minister can rest easy!
Afforestation takes place on grazing lands and marginal agricultural land. As farming techniques have developed, poor quality agriland has become available for forestry. The total area of agricultural holdings in the UK is nearly 17 million hectares including grazing and marginal agricultural lands, of which only arable land of 4.4 million hectares were effectively farmed for agriculture crops in 2022.
The UK Woodland Carbon Code was launched in 2011 by the Forestry Commission and as of June 30, 2023, there were almost 2,000 projects in the scheme, comprising 73,000 ha of forest which is estimated to sequester 24 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (ca. 330 ton/ha). The scheme is administrated and controlled by the Forestry Commission, a government organisation, and hence, there is no risk of these credits ever being double counted in national carbon budgets. In England, project developers can sell their carbon to the government for up to GBP 30 per ton (current market price for Pending Issuance Units is GBP 10-20 per ton with Verified Carbon Units typically selling for higher prices). Sale of carbon credits represents an interesting additional revenue stream for UK forest owners.
For more information: https://mer.markit.com/br-reg/public/index.jsp?entity=project&sort=&dir=ASC&start=0&acronym=WCC&limit=15&additionalCertificationId=&categoryId=100000000000001&name=&standardId=100000000000042 https://on.ft.com/3LZShzL