Survey puts a value on natural capital of new woodlands

A study – the first of its kind in the UK – has provided quantitative evidence of the natural capital benefits of planting new woodlands.

Natural capital is the stock of natural resources, including plants, soils, air, water and greenspace, which all combine to provide benefits to people.

Commissioned by Scottish Forestry, Tilhill and SEPA, the study assessed a newly planted mixed woodland site at Larriston near Newcastleton which is managed by Tilhill. The woodland was then valued to measure its natural capital potential over the next 50 years.

In addition to future revenues from selling harvested timber, the analysis revealed substantial benefits for society through CO2 removals, flood alleviation and biodiversity from modern-day forestry.

The key future benefits were valued at around £20 million in today’s prices, which included almost 200,000 tonnes of timber, just under 150,000 tonnes of CO2 removals, and almost 3 million m3 of water stored in the forest.

The analysis showed timber to provide the largest source of financial revenue for the project at £2.5M over the next 50 years. The value of net carbon sequestration to society was estimated at around £9 million over the same period.  .

Dr. Pat Snowdon, at Scottish Forestry, who led the study said:

“This is a fresh approach to working with businesses in the forestry sector by putting a value on a range of natural capital benefits from planting new woodlands.

“The survey provides important evidence about how woodland creation and nature supports a green recovery and will contribute towards our challenging climate change targets.

“The study will also be of interest to those in the forest products chain who will be able to see how well designed woodland planting is a win-win for the economy, local communities and nature.”

AECOM consultants, who carried out the study in association with RDI Associates and Cumulus Consultants, worked closely with Scottish Forestry and Tilhill to apply the Forest Products Sector Guide of the Natural Capital Protocol for the first time in the UK. The Protocol aims to show the reliance between business and nature, including in this case, benefits that forestry can generate for the economy and local communities.

This type of analysis offers different practical applications in the future: whether as a way to examine the case for future forestry investments and markets; to assess different forest management strategies; or to monitor outcomes as woodlands grow and mature.

It offers complementary evidence to conventional Environmental Impact Assessments and serves to show how the forestry industry can support our economic recovery, while enhancing the natural environment.