29/06/2014
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Planting 200 million trees 'would boost UK economy'

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This map shows how planting new trees in Britain using locations decided by both market and social values could create a widespread 're-wooding' of parts of the landscape. Illustration: University of East Anglia.
This map shows how planting new trees in Britain using locations decided by both market and social values could create a widespread 're-wooding' of parts of the landscape. Illustration: University of East Anglia.
A new report from the University of East Anglia (UEA) recommends planting 200 million trees around Britain to boost the economy.

The report suggests converting almost 4,350 miles2 of British land to forest. This equates to at least 200 million trees, which could generate £500 million annually – but only if they are planted in the right place; choosing the wrong areas could lead to a loss of £65 million.

Other parts of four simultaneously published new reports – making up the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow On (UKNEAFO), which assesses how much nature is worth to the country’s economy – include UEA-led projects on how much wealth is created by the natural environment and how policy makers must examine the potential environmental impacts of new policies at the early stages of decision making. It reveals, among many other facts, that insects help bring £400 million to the British economy by pollinating crops.

Prof Ian Bateman from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences said: “Creating new woodland areas would generate a variety of benefits, including cleaning water before it goes into rivers, providing habitats for birds and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Woodlands are also great places for recreation, and trees are a crop which provides timber for sale, giving farmers a source of income.

“Choosing the best locations for planting new trees is very important for maximising their value. We developed a new computer programme which allows us to find the best place for new woodlands, taking into account the costs and benefits for each location.” The new tool is programmed to select areas which will give the highest value to either farmers, wider society, or both.

However, planting trees in Britain using locations decided solely by the market results in timber being planted on inappropriate land that could lose the economy up to £65 million per annum. Illustration: University of East Anglia.


Prof Bateman continued: “Planting on prime agricultural land would result in a loss for farmers far greater than income generated from timber, and planting on poor quality farmland such as peat moorland would cause a cost to society, because it would dry the soil, leading to the release of CO2. We have taken all of this into account, along with ease of public access to new woodlands. For example woodland planted close to some major cities would be of high value because of the recreational benefits.

“Perfect positioning of new trees could create net benefits exceeding £500 million each year to society. But choosing the wrong areas, particularly when chosen to maximise market return rather than taking into account the value to society, could incur a net loss to the tax payer of up to £65 million. We need to make the best use of our land in Britain, so that when the government is considering making changes to land use, such as under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), they need to be able to assess the full value of the land. The wrong choices could be detrimental to both the economy and the environment.”

In addition, insects help bring £400 million to the UK economy by pollinating crops, forestry-related industries generate more than £7 billion, and tourism contributes more than £36 billion according to the report.
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