A NEW hybrid species of Paulownia will be grown in the UK for the first time after the Forestry Commission gave the greenlight to four plantations. 

Norfolk and Suffolk have been chosen as the locations for the large-scale agricultural estates, which could produce trees that can absorb up to ten times as much CO2 during an 80-year lifetime as a mixed native woodland.

While Paulownia trees are widespread in Asia, this new variety is an infertile hybrid which has been bred to grow in the Northern European climate and can tolerate temperatures as low as -22C. It has already been grown successfully in plantations in Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as other continents.

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The Paulownia tree is thought to be one of the fastest growing in the world, reaching up to 8 m in five years. When grown in a properly managed plantation, Carbon Plantations, the firm behind the project, predicts that it will capture over 60 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year over its average 80-year lifecycle.

As well as sequestering CO2, the Paulownia plantations will provide a locally grown source of hardwood timber displacing the need to import wood from abroad, including tropical hardwoods, and further reducing emissions from transport and logistics. 

The timber is both lightweight and strong, more fire resistant than other species, and does not warp easily. It also has good insulation properties, making it ideal for use in light construction, furniture making, industry, and other applications such as surf boards.

Nigel Couch, Chairman, Carbon Plantations, said: “We all know the urgency of taking action to tackle the climate and ecological crises, and increasing tree planting is a key part of the government’s Net Zero strategy.

"Farmers planting trees on their land is as old as the hills, but new varieties can also offer exciting and progressive solutions.

“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. This new hybrid variety offers huge 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 granted approval are on the Euston Estate in Suffolk and South Pickenham, Westacre and Rutherford Estates in Norfolk. Each has been through a rigorous regulatory process and a full Environmental Impact Assessment.

The statutory process was managed by Brown & Co with the Forestry Commission having the final say. The Commission has imposed strict conditions related to site monitoring, taking the lead from Forest Research.

Planting is expected to start in May 2022.