Digging deep: why the MOD is planting trees

Did you know that the MOD is one of the largest landowners in the UK? The Defence estate includes many important natural habitats: from the rolling grasslands of Salisbury Plain, to the vast tracks of moorland in the north, the heathlands of the Home Counties and the valleys of Wales.

The MOD rural estate is used for training our Armed Forces. The nature of this training means large areas of open land are needed so that large numbers of troops and vehicles can manoeuvre freely.

But the estate also includes approximately 19,500 hectares of woodland — and at least 60 million trees — which our forestry team is responsible for.

Soldiers carry baskets on their backs as they follow a wooded path

This number is expected to increase over the next few years. Together with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Forestry Commission, the Northumberland Tree Partnership, and Dartmoor and the Northumberland National Park, our forestry team is working to identify how many more trees can be planted on the Defence estate to help reduce climate change. This is a huge task which we hope will be completed by 2022.

A group of soldiers sit on the ground amongst woodlands

Although Defence’s aim has always been to provide and manage woodlands for the benefit of military training, we now need to consider a rapidly changing climate. In a recent Guardian article, Friends of Earth called for more trees to be planted to help reduce the impact of climate change.

Defence has committed to reducing our carbon footprint, moving towards a low carbon society and using renewable energy sources.

On average we are replanting around 300,000 trees a year, using a wide range of species suited to changing military and environmental needs. Planting trees is a great way to help reduce climate change, as trees absorb carbon dioxide, helping to take it out of the air.

Increasing our woodland cover is nothing new for the forestry team. Several years ago we entered a partnership with the Woodland Trust to explore how we can create more woodland. In 2010, we carried out a survey of the MOD estate, which created 577 hectares of new woodland by licensing areas of land to the Woodland Trust and working with tenant farmers.

As forestry is such a long-term commitment, a great deal of thought and effort goes into into managing MOD woodlands. Our forestry team have already identified potential tree planting opportunities across 25 UK sites, covering around 750 hectares of land. This has he potential of planting 2 million new trees.

Each decision now will affect the future management of the Defence estate — helping us to continue reducing our carbon footprint. If managed sensitively, these woodlands could provide benefits for many years to come.

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