A major new decade-long experiment to study the impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands took a step closer to reality this week as planning permission was granted by Stafford Borough Council to the University of Birmingham.

The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) field facility, which has been made possible thanks to a transformational £15 million donation to the University, will be created in Mill Haft Wood in Norbury, Staffordshire. BIFoR will be a world-leading initiative, which, when combined with four similar experiments in other climate zones, will form the largest machine every built to study how landscapes will respond to our changing climate.

Stafford Borough Council voted unanimously to approve the plans for the Institute at a meeting on Tuesday morning (16th). Work will begin on site in late spring 2015, with tree enabling works and work to protect the ecology of the area carried out beforehand.
BIFoR will carry out a unique scientific experiment called Free-Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) which involves treating 30-metre plots of semi-natural oak woodland to the concentrations of carbon dioxide expected to prevail in 2050. Autonomous sensors and instrumented trees will allow scientists to take measurements continuously and remotely, over timescales ranging from seconds to decades, to follow the carbon as it is taken up by the plants and moved through the woodland ecosystem.

The woodland at Mill Haft has been chosen because it is an unmanaged forest of mature trees – whereas similar experiments have only been carried out on young trees in plantations. The findings of the experiment will provide the evidence on which to base strategies for the protection of iconic landscape features, such as oak woodlands, into the future.

The entire experiment depends on changing the woodland as little as possible. Therefore, all of the experimental equipment will be nestled into the woodland by hand, and the ancillary buildings are designed to ensure they blend in with the forest rather than stand out. The proposed lighting is low-level and non-intrusive to minimise interference with wildlife and to ensure that the facility sits unobtrusively in its location.

Director of BIFoR and Professor of Atmospheric Science, Rob MacKenzie, said: “We are delighted that Stafford Borough Council has approved our application, and we look forward to becoming part of the community in Norbury.

“We want BIFoR to become a world-leading centre in the understanding of how forests react to the threats which they face. Our Institute is supported by the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Woodland Trust, and many other organisations who share our ambition to understand and manage our precious land resource in the UK.”

For more information, please contact Kara Griffiths, communications manager for estates development at the University of Birmingham on +44(0)7812 671797