How Woodland Creation Supports Water Management
With rising global temperatures expected to bring with them more frequent and more intense extreme weather events, it is essential to now consider how the impacts of climate change can be mitigated and adapted to – particularly where the water crisis is concerned.
Experts are now suggesting that demand for water will exceed supply by 40 per cent come the year 2030 – which is just eight short years away. As such, it is more important now than ever to take steps to safeguard supplies for future generations, even as the pressures of pollution, urbanisation, extreme weather and a growing population really start to bite.
One way to improve water management practices is to prioritise woodland creation. There are a range of benefits associated with planting productive forests and woodland, including reducing flood risks, reducing rapid surface runoff and preventing soil erosion, among others.
However, it seems it’s not necessarily as simple as just planting some trees and sitting back to watch them work their magic. It seems that woodlands are only able to deliver benefits such as these if they’re made up of a variety of species and are actively managed to ensure they remain healthy and resilient.
A new report from the Forestry Commission goes into detail about how woodland and water go hand in hand, focusing on some of the different planting options that landowners could use to help with flood management and minimise the impact on communities downstream.
For example, by planting catchment woodlands, water can be intercepted, slowed, stored and filtered to help reduce flood peaks and frequency. Cross-slope woodlands, meanwhile, can help reduce rapid runoff and improve infiltration and storage of water in the soil.
Another option would be to look into riparian planting, which involves planting trees on both sides of a watercourse to help slow flood flows and reduce both bankside erosion and sediment. Landowners could also consider planting woodlands in floodplains to help improve the capacity to store water and reduce flood peaks.
In general, if woodlands are well planned and well positioned, in compliance with the UK Forestry Standard, they should be able to slow water flow and reduce flood peaks by up to 65 per cent.
Trees also work to improve rainwater infiltration, which is 60 times higher with woodland thanc compared to grass. Soil in woodland is more open and less compact, so it’s better at acting like a sponge and soaking up and storing rainwater.
One of the biggest problems facing freshwater supplies is pollution, however, but here too woodland can provide a lot of solutions, acting as natural buffers between waterways and neighbouring land. The report notes that up to 80 per cent of pollutants from upslope agricultural activities can actually be reduced through strategic use of forests and woodland.
It goes on to observe that sediment runoff could be decreased by 90 to 100 per cent if landowners planted woodland between a river and the field edge, as well as reducing nutrient losses by 20 to 80 per cent and pesticide loss in runoff by 60 to 100 per cent.
Water quality can be improved even further thanks to tree roots, which work to stabilise riverbanks and help prevent erosion. This, in turn, reduces the amount of sediment settling in waterways.
Farmers and landowners interested in reducing flood risks on their land, shoring up freshwater supplies and helping support the local environment, may be interested to find out more about the England Woodland Creation Offer, which provides funding to support woodland creation schemes.
The initiative is open to tenants, landlords, owner occupiers and licensors with full management control of the land. Land is only eligible if it is in England, isn’t already classified as woodland, is not subject to a dispute between tenant and landlord, and is not subject to any existing obligation to create woodland.
Waterways around the country and, indeed, the world are facing increasing pressure from industry, intensive land use and population growth, which are all contributing to a rise in pollutants entering rivers, lakes and streams. Exacerbating the situation is, of course, climate change and more frequent and extreme flood events, as well as periods of drought.
This is all having an impact on land productivity and downstream communities, while water temperatures are also climbing, which is affecting local biodiversity.
Despite the serious case that can be made for tree planting and the benefits it can bring for freshwater resources, it seems that the UK may be lagging behind with its tree-planting rates… which could compromise the country’s climate change and net zero ambitions.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Clive Anderson – president of the Woodland Trust – observed: “We remain one of the least wooded countries in Europe. Fragmentation of woods, loss of trees and the wildlife dependent on them has been brutal.”
Abi Bunker, director of conservation with the organisation, made further comments, saying: “It’s reaching crisis point. The warning signs are loud and clear. If we don’t tackle the threats facing our woods and trees, we will severely damage the UK’s ability to address the climate and nature crises.
“Green spaces that are rich in wildlife, birdsong and blossom are also intrinsically linked to our own health and wellbeing.”
Ms Bunker continued, saying that founding new woodlands and forests, as well as protecting and enhancing those already in existence, is happening on a small scale but it needs to take place nationwide.
The Environment Act was passed into law in November last year, including plans to treble tree planting during this Parliament, with £500 million in funding from the Nature for Climate Fund. It’s also hoped that the aforementioned England Woodland Creation OFfer will provide landowners and farmers with greater financial incentives to prioritise the planting and management of trees.
In addition, at least three new community forests will be established through Trees for Climate, with the planting of 6,000 hectares of new woodland by 2025.
Do you want to find out why water efficiency is important? Get in touch with the team here at H2o Building Services today to find out more.