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Professor's emergency trunk call - plant more trees to combat climate change; Expand upland forests to absorb and lock up greenhouse gases.

Byline: Steve Dub

ONE of the world's leading plant scientists has delivered an urgent plea to the Welsh Assembly Government to fight climate change and transform the countryside by planting trees.

Professor Sir David Read, former vice-president of the Royal Society and Emeritus Professor of Plant Science in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, told AMs it was the least they could do for their grandchildren.

Professor Read was chairman of an independent group of forestry and climate change experts that produced the report Combating Climate Change - A Role for UK Forests, showing how trees absorb and retain the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide "I have grandchildren and I don't want to think that we did nothing to try to reduce the effects of what we have left behind," he said.

"Most of us have contributed to the problem through our relatively comfortable lifestyles and we have to do something. Trees will do a job for us."

Professor Read's call is for an extra 100,000 hectares or 2,471,000 acres of trees to be planted in Wales over the next 20 years.

That would add to the 285,000 hectares of Welsh forest and increase the proportion of countryside covered by trees from 14% to around 18%. This would lock up 10% of predicted greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Read report, which has already been welcomed by the UK Government in Westminster, comes two weeks after the Assembly's Land Use Climate Change Group, which recommended that forestry should play an increasing role in combating climate change.

And Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones has announced capital grants for farmers to plant woodland and 15 years of annual payments to compensate for lost income.

Professor Read said Wales had fallen behind in creating forestry since World War Two, planting only 500 hectares a year compared with 50 times that area in Scotland.

"As a result Scotland is absorbing 12% of its carbon emissions, but the problem is that the forestry is being harvested everywhere across Britain and not being restocked at the required rates," he said.

If 23,000 hectares of land - an area the size of 30,000 football pitches - was planted with forestry every year from now to 2050, Professor Read said trees could absorb one-third of Welsh CO2 emissions.

"Wales is planting an extremely small area at present but there are huge areas of upland that are covered with bracken, without agricultural value or environmentally degenerate and they could contribute a great deal without much cultivation or fertiliser." he said.

Professor Read said trees - particularly ash, beech, sycamore and birch - offered a win-win-win solution for the countryside - absorbing and retaining carbon emissions, providing leisure amenity and increased biodiversity and boosting the economy by reducing the pounds 5bn worth of timber imports to Britain and providing jobs in rural area.

"People love trees, we benefit from them in so many different ways, and now we know they could play a significant part in reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

Professor Read's report is considered to be the first national assessment of its kind in the world and is already attracting interest from other countries keen to form their own climate change plans.

The Welsh Assembly Government is committed to achieving an annual 3% reduction in carbonequivalent emissions by 2011 and the revised Woodlands for Wales strategy acknowledges the role woodlands and their products can play in addressing climate change and also the importance of the need for them to adapt to future changes.

Elin Jones said the report was a timely contribution to the science of the role trees and woodlands can play in mitigating climate change.

"The findings bear out what we in Wales recognise as the valuable contribution woodlands and trees can make to addressing climate change," she said.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 23, 2010
Words:641
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