10 Golden Rules of Tree Planting — Nula Carbon

The solution isn’t as simple as planting trees anywhere. Lands that are grassy or wet can already capture carbon through their soils (incredibly effectively, we might add!) meaning that tree planting would be more effective elsewhere and could potentially be detrimental in that location.

One strategy that could be massively beneficial would be connecting to other forested areas. For example, the Great Green Wall , an ambitious African-led initiative aiming to tackle desertification, links forested areas all along the Sahel creating multiple benefits for the whole region!

4. Maximise biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals

Planting trees is all well and dandy but what about the animals? Are trees being planted to the detriment of both people and ecosystems that rely on the area? A great tree planting scheme will consider numerous additional benefits beyond the humble sapling. For instance, these initiatives could incorporate conserving endangered animals, providing economic benefits to communities or improve waterways.

These would address our critical needs for biodiversity too, considering we failed to achieve the 10-year Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010 by the Convention on Biological Diversity[6]. But we can still take action. Thinking long-term about restoration is far more beneficial than planting for the short-term with fast-growing trees that can be cultivated at the earliest convenience.

Providing multiple benefits can entice more involvement too, such as impact investors — who look for financial opportunities that can promote positive social and environmental benefits.

5. Use natural forest regrowth wherever possible

We’ll get straight to the point, monocultures (think palm oil plantations or tree planting schemes where they only plant one species) are not forests. They never have been and they never will be. Plantations only offer a fraction of the benefit of letting trees regrow themselves. When there is no competition between species, soils become degraded due to trees requiring an imbalanced share of nutrients.

In a natural forest, degraded forests usually will restore themselves, unless the soils are so degraded of nutrients that they do not support life any further. Some advocates of this fall under the ‘rewilding’ camp — where nature takes care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape the land and restore damaged ecosystems back to their wild and uncultivated state [7].

6. Choose trees that maximise biodiversity

Ideally, planting trees that are native to the region’s flora and fauna should be prioritised. This can make forests more genetically diverse and increase their resilience to climate change. As an example of the benefits of native woodlands, The Woodland Trust estimates that just ONE hectare of young mixed native trees can lock up 400+ tonnes of carbon in its trees, roots and soil! [8].

There is much ongoing debate about whether native or non-native trees should be planted to fight climate change. However, from a carbon angle, a study from New Zealand found that non-native trees can accelerate the release of 150% more carbon dioxide from the soil than native species [9].

Another argument for prioritising native trees is that over time plants and animals have developed a close symbiotic relationship with them, becoming reliant on them for food and habitats[10]

7. Use trees that are resilient and adaptable to our changing climate

In order to future-proof our forests to the changing climate, it is advisable that climate resilient trees are prioritised.

Naturally, there may be a trade-off between what’s required in the future and in our present day [11]. However, understanding the expected effects of climate change to the region is critical. Once these are understood, relevant trees can be chosen and the process can start.

8. Prior preparation prevents poor performance!

The previous point slightly alludes to this in terms of climate-change, but the process of planting trees needs to be thought about holistically.

  • What could the future of the region look like?
  • Where is the best place to get the seeds from?
  • Who is going to plant the trees and monitor for any growth in the years to come?

Because they serve little purpose if they are going to die in two years. (side note: for anyone who has their heart set on offsetting through tree planting schemes, PLEASE check the average survival rate. We need these trees to survive for 100 years or more to lockdown carbon. If a company intends to harvest the trees this should raise serious red flags!)

All of the above questions are important to take into account and prepare for. For example, if local groundwork is used (rule 2), then maximising knowledge-sharing between people can allow for more efficient training and development.

Now we know that all previous rules can be difficult to optimise for and that’s okay as long as they are approached with a growth mindset.

This can be done through maximising knowledge through subject matter experts and testing things out in small-scale restoration projects in partnership with local communities. Trial and error can find better ways to restore forests, because we shouldn’t assume that things will go smoothly from the get-go.

When we learn by doing, we can create the best chance of planting or protecting the right trees in the right place with the right multiple benefits.

10. Make it pay

Forestry initiatives can be difficult to get off the ground due to financial issues (although we hope they stay in the ground!). The sustainability of reforestation rests on the trees providing a source of income for all stakeholders.

This review of the 10 golden rules to tree planting are important to help us align biodiversity, carbon lock-in and improved livelihoods at the centre of any reforestation project. If we keep these in mind, we can ensure forests provide mutual, long-term, and sustainable benefits for all living things on our planet.

How to support forestry initiatives:

Ecotourism is another option (albeit a pretty restricted one at the moment!). The forms vary, but they can provide people with valuable environmental education, an appreciation of local cultures, and funds towards maintaining natural areas [12]. Of course, minimising the environmental impact of the travel leg of the trip needs to be considered (see: customer carbon offsets*). Save for later: Nemo Travel are one company that places positive impact at the heart of travel.

Carbon credits: Finally trees can produce carbon credits that can be traded or cashed into forestry projects to offset an individual’s, company’s or country’s emitted carbon. To ensure the money for those credits are not used purely for PR purposes (greenwashing), the Stockholm Environment Institute created an ‘offset guide**’ which allows people to see what constitutes a high-quality offset (stay tuned for a post where we highlight what makes a high-quality offset!).

Protect forests and buy carbon credits

Not part of a business but still want to contribute? You can buy our subscription carbon credits for £10/month. Each month you will be offsetting one tonne (which is the average amount a UK resident emits monthly) and because we believe in giving back, we will offset an additional 15 percent on your behalf.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) refers to a large-scale, lightweight and solid wood panel used in construction of buildings offering design flexibility and low environmental impacts (Source: APA — The Engineered Wood Association, 202 1)

FSC refers to the Forest Stewardship Council which is a world-leading forest certification standards for sustainable forest management. They promote responsible management of the world’s forests and provide credible standards to many industries using wood (Source: ).


The Offset Guide is a guide for companies and people seeking to understand carbon offsets and how to use them as greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategies (Source: GHG Institute, 2021 ).

[1] The Global Risks Report 2021 by World Economic Forum, 2021.

[2] The history of tree planting by The Conservation Volunteers, 2021.

[3] A guide to ancient gardening by History Extra, 2021.

[4] Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimize carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits by Di Sacco et al, 2021.

[5] Lifecycle of a Tree: How Do Trees Grow by The Woodland Trust, 2019.

[6] Aichi Biodiversity Targets by the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020.

[7] What is rewilding? By Rewilding Europe, 2021.

[8] How Trees Fight Climate Change by The Woodland Trust, 2021.

[9] Biotic interactions drive ecosystem responses to exotic plant invaders by Waller et al., 2020

[10] Why are native woods important for biodiversity? by The Woodland Trust, 2021.

[11] Forest adaptation strategies aimed at climate change: Assessing the performance of future climate-adapted tree species in a northern Minnesota pine ecosystem by Muller et al., 2019

[12] Ecotourism and Protected areas by UNWTO, 2021.

Author bio:
Ilkka is a sustainability consultant, content creator, and carbon researcher currently residing in Edinburgh. He became passionate about the environment through seeing wasteful practices working as a chef in commercial kitchens and through spending time living in Malaysia. As a result, he studied an MSc in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh and aspires to continue making a difference through his work. You can follow his content journey through Instagram over at: @recirkl and his LinkedIn.

Originally published at https://www.nulacarbon.com on January 31, 2021.

Nula Carbon helps individuals and companies offset their unavoidable emissions by protecting threatened forests. https://www.nulacarbon.com/

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