Assembling the funding to introduce woodland and other treescapes is no easy task, especially if it takes land out of food production. But the Dunthrop Estate offers an innovative example of how it can be done on a 5 hectare site in north-west Oxfordshire.
Dunthrop, like all land in Oxfordshire, is lucky enough to lie in the HS2 grant catchment area. HS2 provided 65% of the cost, but unfortunately not in advance so the Estate had to cashflow the scheme upfront. The next step was to get the site certified with the Woodland Carbon Code. This involved committing to the scheme being permanent and demonstrating that the value created by the code was decisive in ensuring the project would go ahead. The Code issues carbon units which represent measurable amounts of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by trees as they grow. As the carbon has not yet been captured, the units are called Pending Issuance Units (PIUs). These later becomes Woodland Carbon Units (WCUs) once the carbon captured is verified. The Government will buy the Units off you once verified, but you also have the option to sell them on the open market at any time.
The scheme meant that estate owner Tim Coates lost income of some £240 a hectare over the prior marginal arable use and that he had to permanently change the land use to woodland, but he is confident that it is financially worthwhile.
“As a farmer It makes sense for me to choose when and at what price I sell. The carbon price is likely to increase substantially over the coming decades to reflect demand, so I think that holding PIUs for now makes financial sense. If I sell in say 10 years’ time, I genuinely expect to see the value increase by nearly 1000%. Meanwhile the units form part of my carbon balance sheet which will be of increasing importance to the food supply chain.”
More disappointing to Tim was that he undertook the scheme before the England Woodland Creation Offer grant scheme was launched. Also, he is not being paid for the biodiversity uplift, which he thinks is already in the region of 30 Biodiversity Units of Gain. But with a scheme in place, there may well be a way to monetise this gain in the future. Despite the fact that the scheme looks like stacking up, for Tim it’s not only about the money: “I am in the immensely privileged position of being able to plant native species woodland on my farm that will not only sequester over 1000 tonnes of CO2 over the next 50 years but will also create nature corridors by linking existing ancient natural woodlands together, improve air and water quality and create natural flood management.”
“It’s right that the value of these schemes is starting to be recognised and farmers are being rewarded for their stewardship activities. But for me it is a scheme that was an obvious showcase for the importance of investing in the natural capital that provides ecosystem services on which my farm, locality and society as a whole depend, and I probably would have gone ahead even if the grants were far smaller.”
“It may be one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever done."