Projects on the role of trees and forests for climate, nature, and people have received funding from UKRI.
Imperial College London and the University of Gloucestershire are coordinating new research announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) exploring ways in which trees, woods and forests can help address climate change.
Six large scale research projects have been commissioned in the first tranche of projects to go ahead under the Future of UK Treescapes Programme.
The Treescapes Programme Ambassadors, Professor Clive Potter of Imperial College London and Dr Julie Urquhart of the University of Gloucestershire, whose role is to support and champion these projects, have welcomed the announcement.
The need to expand and better safeguard our treescapes has never been clearer. Professor Clive Potter
The new research will explore ways in which our trees, woods and forests can help address climate change and nature recovery, and provide societal benefits. This could be, for example, by helping expand the UK’s treescapes to meet climate goals and reverse decades of decline in the countryside.
With the upcoming COP26 climate negotiations taking place in Glasgow in November and the UK Government’s commitments to plant 1.5 billion trees by 2050 as part of its target to achieve net zero, the Treescapes projects will provide new and crucial research to enable the governments in England, Scotland and Wales to make the right decisions about how to expand tree cover.
Researchers say our existing trees and woodlands also need to be resilient in the face of ever-increasing threats from climate change, pests, diseases, and development, and support wider nature recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made us more aware of the role of trees and woodlands as important spaces for people’s mental wellbeing and health.
Fresh perspective on an important topic
Professor Potter, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “The need to expand and better safeguard our treescapes has never been clearer. This first set of projects will break new ground in exploring how the vast range of different treescapes in this country function and what needs to be done to have more of them in places and at scales that can truly benefit the natural environment and society as a whole.
“Each of the funded projects is distinct, both in terms of the focus of the work that will be done and in the combinations of disciplines that have been brought together. I am particularly excited by the potential they have to combine the sciences with the social sciences and the arts in new ways in order to bring a fresh perspective on this important topic.
"I am looking forward to working with the project teams to bring the research to the attention of policymakers, stakeholders and the wider public.”
Natural and human dimensions of woodland expansion
With the involvement of thirteen universities and research institutes and over forty non-academic partners, this first round of funded projects brings together teams of natural and social scientists, together with arts and humanities researchers. They will be investigating both the natural and human dimensions of woodland expansion and resilience in the years ahead.
They will examine how best to establish, expand and protect UK treescapes, taking lessons from the past and forecasting future challenges. Whilst some of the projects focus on understanding how treescapes function, for instance looking at how trees ‘remember’ threats and how quickly they are likely to be able to adapt to long term climate change, others will fathom our human relationship with trees and the sort of incentives that will be needed to expand and make the benefits they offer us more accessible.
A second research call will be announced in the autumn, with the aim of commissioning a further set of projects. The Ambassadors have launched an online collaborator finder tool to help researchers and stakeholders interested in developing a proposal for the second call to find and contact potential partners.
The Future of UK Treescapes Programme is funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), Forestry Commission and the Welsh Government and Scottish Governments.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
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