NetZeroPlus: Planning the UK’s new woodlands
14 May 2021 – 13 November 2025
|Professor Ian Bateman
|UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) BBSRC
The NetZeroPlus project will deliver valuable insights on how tree-planting can remove harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere while delivering other benefits. These include enhanced biodiversity, water quality, recreation, and health. It will also consider the effects of tree-planting on other land uses - such as farming.
The project forms a vital part of the Greenhouse Gas Removal Demonstrators programme - the largest UK government-funded programme to assess greenhouse gas removal methods.
Six projects - including NetZeroPlus - have been awarded a total of £31.5million to investigate different methods of greenhouse gas removal over four-and-a-half years.
The programme is expected to shape future government decision-making on which technologies are most effective in tackling climate change.
NetZeroPlus focuses on arguably the most important and timely greenhouse gas removal option currently available.
Trees represent the most cost-effective way of removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. At the same time, they deliver many other benefits such as enhanced biodiversity and recreational and health improvements.
But planting trees without proper planning can have disastrous consequences. For example, planting trees on peatland can release vast quantities of naturally-stored carbon and methane into the atmosphere.
"The right tree in the right place"
NetZeroPlus will pioneer an approach to decision-making that takes into account all of the effects of land-use change.
The Exeter team will help plan the planting of 750,000 hectares of trees - an area greater than Devon. It will gather evidence, address knowledge gaps, and enable decision-makers to assess the consequences of different tree-planting options.
The team will supplement existing data with a nationwide system of new measurement sites. These will identify the best species, best locations, and best management to maximise greenhouse gas absorption and other benefits of woodlands.
The project will weigh up the potential benefits of forestry, such as how trees provide a habitat for animals and reduce the risk of flooding, against the potential costs and negative consequences.
It will also investigate ways of ensuring trees do not push out UK agriculture, leading to greater reliance on food imports and the associated environmental costs.
Who is involved?
This challenge cannot be addressed by scientists alone.
Led by Professor Ian Bateman, Director of LEEP, the NetZeroPlus team comprises a team of 30 researchers from the University of Exeter, the University of Aberdeen, Forest Research, the National Trust and over 40 other industry and government partners.
These partners include UK land use policymakers, such as forestry authorities, and Defra teams responsible for forestry, climate, and agriculture.
A network of over 1,400 farmers, and representatives from farming organisations, will also play a key role in the project’s approach. Partners with significant land holdings, such as the Ministry of Defence, Network Rail, and the National Trust, are working closely with the team to trial planting schemes and shape approaches to incentivising land use change.
Public sector, NGO and not-for-profit organisations will work with the team alongside private sector companies, innovators, consultancies, and start-ups to drive new solutions to increase planting and ensure a more sustainable timber supply chain.
Partnerships with the forest and construction industries will also investigate new ways to use timber to store carbon when trees are felled and replanted.
Building on previous projects
The project is the latest in a rich history of research collaborations between LEEP researchers and experts from a broad range of academic disciplines and practitioners.
Over the past 30 years, LEEP researchers have been examining the relationships between land use and the variety of natural capital and ecosystem service-related benefits that arise from land use change.
Within this, a consistent theme has been how land use responds to climate change and can either remove or add to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
NetZeroPlus brings together ecologists, geographers, climate scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians and LEEP’s environmental economists to address the complex and urgent challenge of meeting the UK’s Net Zero commitments.
Links to LEEP’s previous work in this area can be found at the bottom of this page.
What will the impact be?
NetZeroPlus will deliver vital insights and evidence on the best ways to use tree-planting to reduce carbon emissions.
It will bring together the research in the form of a simple-to-use, free web tool. This will allow anyone to see the effects of planting different trees in different areas.
It is expected that this information will help the UK Government advance towards Net Zero by 2050.
It will also be of value to policymakers, conservation, planning and construction, agriculture, and forestry organisations, and more.