A new Tilhill venture is matching corporates in seeking carbon-offset schemes, with Scottish landowners now aiming to plant new woodlands, discovers Anthony Harrington

 

AS the UK’s larger corporations work out how they are going to move towards carbon neutrality, many of them find that while  there is much they can do to lower their carbon footprint, there is a residual carbon output associated with some of their processes that they cannot completely eliminate.  

To help corporates achieve a zero-carbon goal, six months ago, Tilhill, the leading forestry management and timber harvesting company in Scotland, set up a new division, CarbonStore, headed by David McCulloch. 

As he explains, the division provides advice to corporates looking for authentic carbon-offset schemes, and to landowners who are thinking of planting up new woodlands.

“To qualify as a carbon-offsetting scheme, the arrangement has to conform to the Woodland Carbon Code, the UK’s voluntary carbon standard for woodland creation projects,” McCulloch explains. 

The Code is the rulebook for all woodland-based carbon offset schemes across the UK. It is a UK Government-led scheme, underpinned by robust science that predicts and monitors carbon sequestration. 

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New plantings

 

It also provides an independent validation and verification of projects. So, carbon buyers can be reassured that they are investing in a responsible scheme that genuinely does offset the amount of carbon the company is claiming to offset. 

In addition, it means that project developers have recognised procedures and standards to work with, both in terms of woodland management and carbon accounting.

Under the terms of the Code, only new plantings qualify as true carbon offset projects. 

The logic for this is straightforward, as McCulloch explains. Replanting an existing woodland after a section of it has been felled does not qualify as a new carbon-offsetting project because restocking felled woodland is a legal requirement so it would have happened anyway. 

In order to be eligible for the Woodland Carbon Code, a project must be supplementary to that which would have happened anyway, or without the additional incentive of carbon funding. 

It must be “additional” – which means that CarbonStore is only able to deal with new planting schemes.

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“Landowners and farmers who are thinking of planting up new woodlands need advice that can help them to understand what a fair price would be for their woodland carbon,” McCulloch  notes. “Carbon prices are fairly new and are fluctuating dramatically, so this is very much a moving picture. 

“At the same time, this is a very new market still, so the amount of qualifying woodland available to companies is limited. We connect both parties and help them establish a constructive relationship based on a transparent price.” 

Because of its extensive network and long history in the industry, Tilhill is well positioned to know when new woodland schemes are being planned. 

“We operate with the ethos of an open, honest and transparent approach. This high level of transparency is in everyone’s interests,” McCulloch comments.  

“It is important to emphasise that, from the point of view of a company looking to make use of a carbon-offset scheme, the regulations and rules that underpin the Woodland Carbon Code are very strong and well trusted,” McCulloch adds. 

“The landowner has to go through many checks and inspections to ensure that their new planting proposals meet the necessary standards.

“The trees have to be planted properly and maintained, and schemes must conform to UK forestry standards. This means the landowner needs professional advice and the schemes have to be professionally maintained,” says McCulloch.

He reckons that where the Scottish Government’s planting grants for new woodland will typically cover around 80 per cent of the cost of planting a new woodland, the additional money a carbon-offset arrangement can provide will cover the remaining cost, plus a good deal more. 

McCulloch points out too that there is a strong marketing message for companies in buying in to a carbon-offset arrangement that has at least a 40-year life cycle. In the case of broadleaf woodlands, this could rise to 80 to 100 years. 

“In the 19th century banks built large stone head offices and branches in city centres. 

“The message was that the banks were planning on being there for a very long time to come. Associating your company with new woodland planting sends much the same message of longevity. 

“Plus shareholders and the public respond well to the realities of this kind of investment as a solid contribution to the fight against climate change,” he points out. 

“These schemes in no way prejudice the landowner or farmer’s right to harvest the timber at the end of the scheme.

“The scheme arrangement sets out factors such as the anticipated thinning of the woodland in year 25 or its harvesting in year 45. If you are a farmer or a landowner with some spare or marginal land, this is an excellent time to plant trees on it. 

“The tide of money that’s now flowing from mainly city-based companies into these woodland carbon projects in the countryside makes planting trees well worth your while.”