Four plantations to be dominated by fast-growing Paulownia tree, which is estimated to store up to 10 times more CO2 than mixed woodland

The Forestry Commission has given the go-ahead to the creation of a string of tree plantations in East Anglia which it is claimed will see fast-growing hardwood trees with strong carbon storage potential planted for the first time in the UK.

Carbon Plantations Ltd today revealed it has received regulatory approval for the plantations, which will see a new hybrid species of Paulownia tree grown in four locations in Norfolk and Suffolk, in what it claims will be a UK first.

The company, which recently secured funding from UK fixed income debt manager Aether Energy Ltd, estimated the projects would be capable of capturing more than 60 tonnes of CO2 per hectare annually over an average 80-year lifecycle, and would therefore help support the UK’s net zero emissions efforts.

The Paulownia tree is thought to be one of the fastest growing trees in the world, reaching up to eight metres within five years, according to Carbon Plantations. It also boasts a highly efficient rate of CO2 absorption, storing up to 10 times more CO2 as new mixed woodland.

Nigel Couch, chairman of Carbon Plantations, said the new varieties of trees offered “exciting and progressive solutions” to tackling the climate and ecological crises.

“No other tree can sequester as much CO2 as quickly as the Paulownia, and its wood is known as the aluminium of the timber industry,” he said. “This new hybrid variety offershuge potential benefits for biodiversity, carbon capture and UK hardwood supply. These first four plantations alone are expected to sequester over 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 in their lifetime – it’s a win-win for the climate and for farmers.”

The four pioneer projects that have been granted approval are on the Euston Estate in Suffolk and the South Pickenham, Westacre and Rutterfords Estates in Norfolk.

Carbon Plantations said the deciduous Paulownia’s deep roots would help restore degraded soil at the four sites, which were previously been the site of intensive farming and been subjected to high inputs of pesticides and fertilisers.

The firm plans to plant to trees alongside mixed native woodland species, with the understory set to be sown with a native grass-seed mix enhanced with wildflowers and legumes in a bid to attract biodiversity and attract pollinators, other insects and birds, it explained.

Under the plans, 75 per cent of the 468 hectares of land earmarked for plantation will be Paulownia hybrids, 15 per cent native woodland the remainder grassland.

Planting of the projects is expected to start in May 2022, with trees supplied and planted by German tree plantation developer WeGrow, according to the Carbon Plantations. The first timber harvests are scheduled to take place after six to seven years, with a 10-year cycle typically following, it said.

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