Forest Research Unearths New Techniques

Big Steps Forward This Month For Forestry Research

The restoration of peatland has long been deemed as one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of limiting climate change.

It might seem like a small change to make to areas that are already deemed to be relatively green, but afforested land can still offer the world much more when its returned to its previous peaty state.

Forestry operations often affect our climate in a negative way – this goes beyond the simple act of cutting trees down. Planting trees, where previously there were none, has a negative effect on the global environment too; wildlife habitats, both small and large, are often disturbed and a release of carbon usually accompanies even the most minor of forestry operations.

Attempts to restore peatland to previously afforested areas have failed in the past due to underground cracks draining away the much needed moisture in the ground. However, recent trials conducted by Forest Research are starting to prove successful. New trenching techniques, which form a barrier preventing water drainage, have allowed successful rewetting of these sites – an accomplishment which was previously thought to be impossible.

By digging deeper than the troublesome underground cracks and repacking the ground with more peat, project leader Russell Anderson has been able to prevent water draining away from the treated areas.

In some cases his team used a thin plastic membrane to line the trench, however sites without the use of this drain were also successful in retaining moisture. In all test cases there was a dramatic rise in the level of underground water – an unmitigated success that should not be understated.

Its been a busy month for Forestry Research, who’ve also made a significant step forward in decoding the genetic makeup of the tree seed. Working in conjunction with NovelTree and cattle breeders from the Roslin Institute, a study investigating the DNA markers of 1,500 closely related trees (in the South West of England) have revealed useful information regarding how tall trees will grow and which kinds of trees will break bud first.

Applying techniques that are usually used for salmon and cattle, Steve Lee from the Department of Tree Breeding has likened the process of selection as similar to that of animal breed. Because of the vast differences in DNA structure, research has been able to progress much faster than usual. Genetic gain has increased substantially due to the fact that generation intervals have been shortened.

Its still early days for the researchers, but such is the case for DNA sequencers all around the world. The research method is still very much in its infancy, but its thanks to advances like these that we can hope to learn more about how organisms really work.

For more information on what Forestry Research is up to go to our ‘Outside Sources’ page.