Your Green Futures Tariff in action: Emilie’s Wood

Emilie's Wood in Nottinghamshire.

Taking action on climate is vital, and our target is to become a net zero business by 2045. And we want to help our customers to live more sustainably too. Our purpose is energising a greener, fairer future – and our People and Planet Plan outlines how we can do this.

We already provide 100% zero carbon electricity as standard. And with the British Gas Green Futures Tariff, you can power your home while still protecting the planet. That’s because 100% of the carbon emissions associated with the gas you use is balanced by carbon-cutting projects all over the world. One of these is Emilie’s Wood in Nottinghamshire, the creation of which we supported through our expert carbon partner ClimateCare. James Lonsdale and Samuel Welsh from the ClimateCare team explain how it works…

What is Emilie’s Wood and how did it come about?

It’s land that had previously been farmed intensively to grow potatoes, and we’ve done a lot of environmental improvement work since buying it five years ago – not just planting trees, but a whole wildflower meadow and hedges as well. Named after James’ youngest daughter, it’s an 11-hectare site near a village with a public footpath running through it. The River Smite runs across its northern edge and a small provincial railway line along its other side. We planted native trees to create vital woodland that sequesters carbon as the trees grow.

What does the work involve?

There are two sides – the practical planting, and the paperwork. Our starting point was to design a new wood, which then needed Forest Commission approval after they’d done environmental assessment impacts. Once planted, it was validated and verified under the UK Government’s Woodland Carbon Code. It’s incredibly strict. Everything is measurable. It takes ages and ages to walk round the site and count and measure the trees. It’s a really, really tough process to go through, but rightly so that everything is measurable and credible. Everything is then third-party audited to make sure that all claims about the project’s impacts are accurate.

And what about the practical planting side?

We have a mix of native broad leaf trees and shrubs, lots of lovely decorative trees on the edges of footpaths and some tall guards to stop the deer nibbling on the trees. Then it’s a case of maintenance to replace any dead trees and mow the glades and public footpaths.

Planting trees helps to sequester carbon.

How has funding through British Gas Green Futures Tariff supported that work?

By joining the tariff, British Gas customers help projects like Emilie’s Wood with activities that otherwise would not have been economically viable, such as design, operation, planting or ongoing maintenance and remediation works. This process is known as carbon finance and allows organisations to fund carbon reduction projects all over the world.

How vital is it?

It’s crucial to a project’s viability. We have done projects where we have lost money happily because they are lovely projects. Carbon finance is a big part of the picture now, and the more we can get, the more we can do. It’s also got better – land’s not got any cheaper, materials and labour aren’t any cheaper – so carbon finance makes a big difference. We’re going to see a huge increase in woods being created over the next few years if more corporate partners like British Gas get involved.

Why is tree planting so important, and what role does it play in reaching Net Zero?

Fundamentally, trees take in carbon dioxide and pump out oxygen. They store carbon as they grow, so carbon emissions are effectively mitigated over time. While we all work to reduce our carbon footprint, there’ll always be a small amount that can’t be avoided – so by supporting new woodlands we can compensate for those emissions. Woodlands have lots of other benefits too, for people and biodiversity. And we don’t have enough of them in the UK because we’re a small island and we needed land for food after the second world war. We have one of the lowest tree cover rates in Europe, just 13% nationally. In the wake of COP26 we hope to see corporations increasingly playing a key role in funding actions that support the UK to achieve its Net Zero targets.

How is the carbon mitigation calculated?

When you apply under the UK Woodland Carbon Code, you have a huge great spreadsheet that calculates growth and survival rates based on the site and species you’re planting. We input all the factors, including carbon that might be lost during the conversion process or displaced, and it gives the likely carbon that will be sequestered every five years. After five years, and every 10 years after that, third-party auditors go in to count the trees to make sure that all is as expected. With Emilie’s Wood, everything is on track and the numbers are where they need to be. Even at five years old, native UK trees are too small to have sequestered much carbon. But by the next verification, significant amounts of carbon will have been drawn down from the atmosphere and stored in the trees. Inspectors measure this at each verification, and this dictates how many carbon credits can then be issued and sold.

What are the other benefits of woodland?

They support native species of birds, mammals, and invertebrates so there’s a wider ecosystem benefit. We’ve seen barn owls, kestrels, egrets, buzzards, and red kites at Emilie’s Wood. People have also reported seeing otters in the river. And all of that has come about simply because it’s a better habitat for animals than intensively farmed arable land. Woodland also reduces flood risks and benefits the nutrient cycle that we use for food. And the link to health and wellbeing of reconnecting people with nature and the outdoors has proven especially true during the pandemic.

Emilie’s Wood is open to public access.

How is Emilie’s Wood supporting the wider area?

Land availability is by no means in abundance in the UK, so having a project in Nottinghamshire seemed central to the British Gas customer base and potentially more accessible for them to visit. It was vital to us that we keep the existing public access to the site. When people go walking, even when there’s a public footpath, sometimes they feel they shouldn’t be there. So, we want to welcome people to the countryside because it’s a really positive experience and most people are incredibly responsible. People can also help doing remedial work like putting canes back up.

What are the main challenges you face?

Land availability and some of the bureaucracy. Finding the land and persuading landowners who have farmed for generations to change from a production culture to something alien to them. Change is happening slowly though. Another challenge is to help increase ambition and do more to scale up climate action by supporting more projects like Emilie’s Wood. It’s this support that helps landowners explore alternative sustainable uses of their land.

What do you love most about the work you do?

There’s an enormous sense of satisfaction in creating something that will be there for hundreds of years, and seeing people enjoy it. Yesterday a family friend planted a tree for the first time and it’s great to be able to say: “You’re doing something here that in 80 years’ time when come here with your grandkids you can say ‘Look this is what I helped create’.” It’s also good to see climate action increasing, and driving innovation such as peatland restoration and increasing soil carbon. And then in the marine environment there are blue carbon projects improving ecosystems such kelp and sea grass to help them to sequester carbon.

What’s next for Emilie’s Wood, and what is your vision for the future?

The plan is to plant a few willows on one or two wet spots, and to sort the pond out. We’ll continue measuring the increasing amount of carbon sequestered in Emilie’s Wood. We’ll also continue looking for new appropriate sites for woodland creation around the UK, planting more trees, drawing down more carbon, and creating more habitats.

Do you have any final words for our Green Futures customers, and prospective customers looking to switch to greener tariffs?

By joining these green tariffs it’s not just sending a signal, it’s driving change on the ground and so we want to thank everyone who has joined the tariff. Projects like Emilie’s Wood are only possible when the funding exists to support them. So, to those thinking of joining: please do – the support does genuinely reach the person who puts the tree in the ground, resulting in measurable climate action and lots of environmental and social benefits besides.

Join the British Gas Green Futures Tariff now

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