Woodland laboratory aiming to make a global impact

In spring, BIFoR will begin research in a unique open-air laboratory in a Staffordshire woodland, studying the effects on tree growth and the woodland ecosystem of the higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) anticipated in climate change projections.

Based in Mill Haft - an unmanaged mature oak woodland near the village of Norbury - the Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) project is expected to run for at least 10 years. A network of around 1,000m of pipes will pump CO2 into 30sq m-diameter enclosed plots of woodland, bringing levels up to 150ppm, the level forecast for 2050. All aspects of carbon uptake in the plots will be automatically recorded and relayed in real time, and compared with similar unenriched plots in the wood.

The wood was extensively surveyed before work began, with data on every tree being precisely recorded, while dendrochronology has been used to understand the wood's environmental history. The project received the go-ahead from planners last December and infrastructure, which is intended to be as unobtrusive as possible, is now largely in place.

Four similar experiments are also under way in other climate zones, with the aim of giving a global perspective on changing woodland growth and behaviour. Professor Rob MacKenzie said: "We want BIFoR to become a world-leading centre in the understanding of how forests react to the threats that they face. We intend to make a difference globally."

The institute was set up in November 2013 thanks to a £15m gift by university alumnus and medical services entrepreneur Jo Bradwell, together with £3m in-kind funding from the university itself, and is supported by the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Woodland Trust and others.

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