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D1b. Removal of greenhouse gases by UK forests

Type: Benefit indicator

Indicator Description

Forests are a large store of carbon and also act as an active carbon ‘sink’, removing carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in living biomass, leaf litter and forest soil. This sequestration of CO2 is an essential ecosystem service. This indicator shows the cumulative net removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by UK forests since 1990. It is split between type of woodland (conifer and broadleaf). Showing greenhouse gas removals by type of woodland is interesting from a biodiversity perspective as it allows a clearer presentation of the contribution made to greenhouse gas removals by broadleaf woodland, most of which constitutes priority habitat. 


  1. Summary


It is estimated that since 1990, forests in the UK have (cumulatively) removed the equivalent of 497 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt C02e) from the atmosphere (Figure D1bi). In 2017, UK forests are estimated to have removed 18 Mt CO2e (see the online fiche for detail).

The proportion of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by broadleaf woodland has increased since the time series began, accounting for 49% (8.8 Mt CO2e) of the estimated annual removals in 2017 compared to 35% (5.1 Mt CO2e) of removals in 1990.

Figure D1bi. Cumulative net removals of greenhouse gases by UK forests, 1990 to 2017.

A stacked bar chart showing how the estimated cumulative net removals of greenhouse gases by UK forests has changed from 1990 to 2017. Estimated cummulative net removals by both conifer and broadleaf forests have increased every year between 1990 and 2017. Conifer forests account for a greater proportion of UK removals than broadleaf forests.


  1. Estimated cumulative net removals of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)) from the atmosphere by forests in the UK, expressed as million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e).
  2. Revised in 2015 to reflect improved modelling of greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
  3. Revised in 2017 due to improvements made to the forestry sector of the 1990 to 2015 Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) greenhouse gas inventory.
  4. Revised in 2018 due to improvements in the CARBINE model used to calculate the forest carbon stock figures for the 1990 to 2016 LULUCF greenhouse gas inventory.
  5. Revised in 2019 due to further improvements in the CARBINE model (see background section for more details).
  6. These results are therefore not directly comparable with those in previous publications.

Source: Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) greenhouse gas inventory.

Assessment of change in cumulative net removal of greenhouse gases


Long term

Short term

Latest year

Cumulative net removal of greenhouse gases by forests



Increased (2017)

Note: Long- and short-term assessments are based on a 3% rule of thumb. The base years for these assessments use a 3-year average. See Assessing Indicators.



Download the Fiche and Datasheet from the JNCC Resource Hub

Last updated: September 2019

Latest data available:  

Greenhouse gas removals by UK forests (LULUCF) – 2017

Carbon stocks of UK forests (NFI) – 2019




UK Biodiversity Indicators 2019

Published: .

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