Where in England is the best place to plant new woodland?

Planting millions of trees could be one of the best ways to help fight climate change and the flooding which comes with it.

The UK Committee on Climate Change recommends the planting of 10,000 hectares of new woodland in England each year if we are to meet the target of net zero emissions by 2050.

But where should we plant these vast new woodlands? A team of University of Bath mathematicians, collaborating with a colleague from Sussex University, set out to find the answer by analysing large geospatial datasets and developing mathematical models which can identify the optimal areas for tree planting.

Their work has produced a series of valuable maps which identifies tree planting hot spots throughout England.

Hot spots for new woodland were identified by looking at the wider societal benefits they would have in a particular area, such as their recreational value, achieved flood risk reduction, and their health benefits in terms of improved air quality. The analysis also considered the need to protect valuable agricultural land.

Tackling geospatial problems in UK businesses

The research was part of a three-day collaborative ‘Study Group with Industry’ at the University hosted by the Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) and funded by the Knowledge Transfer Network.

Talking about the industry study group, Simon Doxford from Natural England said: “It has been a great opportunity to gather ideas from different disciplines and different people on what is a very challenging, complex problem with numerous factors to consider.

“In terms of making planning decisions, putting policies into place and developing strategies for planting trees, it is great to get as much input as we can to inform that.”

The study group focused on three geospatial challenges faced by UK businesses. Present at the event was also representatives from Highways England and Geospatial Insight.

Highways England’s challenge was to explore how specific factors such as road topography and weather impact the average speed on highways. The third industry challenge from Geospatial Insight investigated ways of determining a building’s height using satellite imagery.

Laura Dixon, Highways England, said: “It’s encouraging that the mathematicians are coming up with new novel approaches that we never would have thought of.”

Collaborate with the IMI

The IMI is a research institute which specialises in applied mathematics.

Drawing on the vast expertise at the University, we partner with industry collaborators to find solutions to their technical challenges. We optimise processes, analyse complex data and model system behaviour.

If you would like to explore working with us, contact Caroline Ang, IMI Manager.