Almost all of Avon's woodland has disappeared over the last few centuries. This is disastrous for many reasons but perhaps most pressingly because trees are essential for tackling climate change.
We started on this journey for a host of reasons. We're doing it not only for carbon sequestration and also for halting biodiversity loss and for natural flood management and for us to have access to more green space. After nine months of hard fundraising, including a transformative contribution from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we were able to make our first purchase – 34 acres at Hazeland, between Chippenham and Calne.
The land has mixed types of cover, from remnant ancient forests and wet woodlands that we will protect to low-grade pastures where we will plant trees and orchards to other areas that we will leave for rewilding. Planting more trees in the River Avon high catchment area will help stop excess water entering our river system. Such natural flood management not only helps protect nearby towns from flooding but also cities like Bristol further downstream where residents are so exposed to flooding.
To achieve our carbon neutrality targets we are going to need negative emissions. Although outside its immediate local authority boundary, Bristol City Council was very supportive of our initiative as part of the solution towards its net zero target. Unfortunately, the age profile of our forests in the UK peaked last year in terms of carbon sequestration and hence the need to speed up afforestation. In terms of measuring the carbon captured, we follow the Woodland Code of 300-400 tonnes of CO2 eq per hectare by year 50. But the trees are also protecting the soil, and this soil stores 3-4 times as much carbon as the biomass of the trees.
We face an absolute crisis of biodiversity loss, and the land is a mosaic of habitats for many different species. It's also a place that will have open access to the public so that more people can enjoy its recreational value and effects on our well-being. Our vision was not simply to buy this one piece of land, but to continue buying land in the high catchment area of Avon-Bristol, so that we can continue to make progress on all these fronts.
We believe buying the land for reforestation is a much better way to get things done: asking landowners to voluntarily make these changes does not necessarily provide long-term, guaranteed results.
A huge amount of networking is involved, from public talks to site visits.
Gather lots of expertise around you. We had a lot of help from the Woodland Trust, Rivers Trust, the local council and Bristol University. It's important to formalise this expertise by getting a strong trustee board together.
Be careful where potential funds come from. Although we desperately needed funds to buy the land, we took difficult decisions in declining some offers because we did not want to be used for greenwashing.
Land acquired for reforestation.
Number of people who support us.