Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Woodland Trust


  The Woodland Trust welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the above inquiry. The comments that follow are delivered on behalf of the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,100 sites across the country, covering around 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) and we have 250,000 members and supporters.


  As we move into a time when climate change is going to change the rainfall patterns prevalent in the UK, we need to look for more sustainable solutions to flood control and aquifer protection. We believe that woodland, especially native woodland, can help provide such solutions but there is inadequate research to demonstrate this satisfactorily.


  1.  The Select Committee will be aware of the UK Climate Impacts Programme's 2002 scenarios.[2] While annual average precipitation across the UK may decrease slightly (0-15%) by the 2080s, seasonal distribution of this rainfall will change. Winters are predicted to become wetter by up to 30%. Furthermore extreme winter rainfall will become more frequent, with winter daily precipitation intensities that are experienced once every two years on average, possibly occurring up to 20% heavier.

  2.  This type of intense rainfall event means that rain runs off the land rather than being absorbed into it, and this will inevitably increase seasonal flood risk.


  3.  A recent report undertaken by ERM and Professor Kenneth Willis, on behalf of the Woodland Trust, shows that woodland can help deliver 11of the UK Government's 15 headline quality of life indicators[3]. As part of the contribution to "improving river quality" (H12) and "economy must continue to grow" (H1) the role of woodland in helping to alleviate flooding was shown to be positive.

  4.  The Woodland Trust is particularly interested in the capacity of wetlands, including wet woodland, to store water and therefore play a vital role in future flood defence strategies and is currently undertaking a worldwide literature review of examples. Flood defence strategies to date have centred on canalising watercourses and moving water as quickly as possible from the upper catchment out to sea. Recent experience and climate change predictions would suggest that this strategy might no longer be a sustainable approach to managing floodwaters, particularly in the flash flood, and slowing down flow rates might be a more appropriate response.

  5.  More extensive use of river flood plains could provide enormous storage capacity. This would slow down flow rates, and would serve to control the flashiness of watercourses as they pass through built-up areas. Of particular interest to us is that strategically located flood plains managed in such a way, with a mosaic of habitats, including wet woodland, are important wildlife habitats in their own right and Government HAP targets do seek to increase their area.[4] Such riparian habitat has the potential to contribute to the development of ecologically functional landscapes that ensure that biodiversity is best placed to cope, adapt and move in response to climate change.

  6.  We are aware that scientists at Forest Research's Talybont Research Station are currently undertaking modelling work on the potential role of woodland in the flood plain to alleviate flood risk down stream.

  7.  Further interesting work has been done at Pontbren in Wales[5] where soil water storage and infiltration capacity has been researched on agricultural land recently planted with trees. The results show that infiltration is significantly greater (90%) in the area planted with trees than in the adjacent agricultural land.

  8.  Research of this type illustrates the potential for not only innovative use of flood plains for flood storage gain, but also for more sustainable land use practices which may reduce the effects of intense rainfall events, by enabling a greater volume of water to infiltrate the soil.


  9.  A further area of research required is the ability of riparian habitats, which would include wet woodland, to help deliver the Water Frameworks Directive requirements for water quality, through buffering of watercourses enabling filtration of diffuse pollutants. In upper catchments this is particularly important as headwater streams, ditches and finger drains, which intersect farmland, are where diffuse pollution tends to enter watercourses. Again such land use changes would help to deliver biodiversity targets.

  10.  The Sustainable Development Commission notes that "planning for winter floods and summer droughts that may become more frequent with the advent of climate change does not appear to be very far advanced[6]". The Woodland Trust wishes to see greater investment in research to identify sustainable landuse practices that would help to mitigate the effects of predicted climate change on water management, especially flood control.

  11.  Furthermore the Woodland Trust urges the Government to look at these research areas in a holistic way, such that delivery of more than one policy area can be considered at the outset, thereby better reflecting the Government's approach to sustainable development. A joined up approach to research on issues surrounding climate change and water policy could help tackle other issues including diffuse pollution, biodiversity, recreation and flooding, enabling simultaneous delivery of a wide range of sustainable development indicators.

  12.  Whilst not included in the terms of reference, we hope that that the Committee will take the opportunity to take a joined up look at how this inquiry is relevant to recent CAP reform. This may include, for example, Good Agricultural and Environment Condition, including the targeted use of buffer strips to protect watercourses, and also likely agricultural demand for irrigation water in the future.

The Woodland Trust

April 2004

2   Hulme, M, Jenkins, GJ, Lu, X, Turnpenny, JR, Mitchell, TD, Jones, RG, Lowe, J, Murphy, JM, Hassell, D, Boorman, P, McDonald, R and Hill, S (2002) Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Scientific Report. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. 120pp. Back

3   The Woodland Trust (2004) Making Woodland Count-its contribution to our quality of life. A report prepared by ERM, in collaboration with Professor Kenneth Willis, for the Woodland Trust. Back

4   Wet Woodland Back

5   ZL Carroll1, SB Bird, BA Emmett1, B Reynolds1 & FL Sinclair2. Can shelter belts on agricultural land reduce the flooding risk?1. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Orton Building, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales, LL57 2UP.2 School of Agricultural & Forest Sciences, University of Wales Bangor, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2UW. Back

6   Shows promise. But must try harder. A report by the Sustainable Development Commission. April 2004 Back

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