Most beneficial places to plant new woodland revealed

A Research Fellow from the University of Sussex has worked with a team of mathematicians to help Natural England identify the most beneficial places to plant 10,000 hectares of new woodland.

Eduard Campillo-Funollet collaborated with a team from the University of Bath to produce mathematical models and maps to help identify the hotspots for tree planting throughout England.

Woodlands are important recreational spaces, improving air quality, reducing flood risks and helping to fight climate change.

The UK Committee on Climate Change recommends the planting of 10,000 hectares of new woodland in England each year if we are to meet the target of net zero emissions by 2050. But there is still a question around where we plant these woodlands.

Eduard Campillo-Funollet, Research Fellow at the Genome Damage and Stability Centre , said: “The goal of planting 10, 000 hectares per year is reasonable and Natural England already identified over 3 million hectares of land suitable for new woodland.

“But the relevant question is where is better to plant new trees. It is a complex optimisation problem because many factors are involved, from the benefits of planting new woodland in a given location to the prediction of the impact of the new woodland in the area.”

The research team set out to find analysed large geospatial datasets and developed mathematical models to identify optimal areas for new trees.

Hot spots for new woodland were identified by looking at the wider societal benefits they would have in a particular area, such as their recreational value, achieved flood risk reduction, and their health benefits in terms of improved air quality. The analysis also considered the need to protect valuable agricultural land.

The research was part of a three-day collaborative ‘Study Group with Industry’ at the University of Bath hosted by the Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) and funded by the Knowledge Transfer Network.

Talking about the industry study group, Simon Doxford from Natural England said: “It has been a great opportunity to gather ideas from different disciplines and different people on what is a very challenging, complex problem with numerous factors to consider.

“In terms of making planning decisions, putting policies into place and developing strategies for planting trees, it is great to get as much input as we can to inform that.”

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Thursday, 19 March 2020

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