BIFoR aims to provide fundamental science, social science and cultural research of direct relevance to forested landscapes anywhere in the world. We make the evidence-based case for forests as part of one-planet living.
The Birmingham Institute of Forest Research was formed in 2014 as a direct result of a £15 million philanthropic donation that was match-funded by the University. The funding was given to enable the newly formed Institute to investigate the impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands and the resilience of trees to invasive pests and pathogens.
Central to the donation was co-funding of the set up and running of a Free Air Carbon Dioxide (FACE) facility, the only such facility in the northern hemisphere which is our key research infrastructure. BIFoR FACE has placed scientists at Birmingham in a globally unique position to investigate the impact of climate change on trees.
In the video above, Professor Rob MacKenzie, on of the Director's of BIFoR, describes the focus of the institute's work and the importance of understanding how forests work.
BIFoR is a virtual institute of over 100 academics, primarily from the schools of Geography Earth and Environmental Sciences and Biosciences but also including members from Mathematics, Engineering, the Business School, International Development, Psychology, English, and elsewhere.
Recent appointments include, Prof Rob Jackson, our new Chair in Tree Pathology and bioscientists working on pathology and physiology of trees. These appointments will now ensure we can step up our research in the area of resilience of trees to invasive pests and diseases. Through academic appointments since 2014, those who have re-aligned their research to cover forests and those who were already involved in forest research, BIFoR brings together a wide range of forest related projects that address our overarching vision:
“To provide fundamental science, social science and cultural research of direct relevance to forested landscapes anywhere in the world”.
Significant moments in 2019 include the development of tree pathology research within the national Action Oak initiative. The highly successful Thinking Higher conference, hosted in Birmingham and organised by Estrella Luna Diez, and Graeme Kettles, brought together over 80 international researchers to exchange the latest knowledge across plant pathology and tree research.
The BIFoR team focused on environmental change impacts maintain a vigorous research programme, with notable grants being awarded this year. An assessment score of a ‘perfect 10’ for the FACE Underground project led by Sami Ullah, the QUINTUS £3.7m NERC large grant, and the substantial investments into wildfire research by Nick Kettridge and colleagues, stand out as particular achievements in 2019.
BIFoR operates a Doctoral Scholarship Programme (DSP) called Forest Edge. It is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The programme will recruit around 20 PhD studentships over four years and has so far
recruited 15 people in the first three years.
BIFoR has catalysed some game-changing education initiatives at the University of Birmingham. In collaboration with Joe Berry and his team at Higher Education Futures Institute (HEFI) we have developed a number of education teaching materials around the water and carbon cycles which are being embedded both the in the GCSE curriculum and our own undergraduate teaching. A virtual tour of the BIFoR FACE facility allows teachers to bring the forest to the classroom.
BIFoR is primarily concerned with knowledge-making through its research and educational initiatives, but recognises that such knowledge must be useful and put to work in societal decision-making. The Institute has been involved in shaping the national research agenda, resulting in the pre-announcement of the “The Form, Function and Future of UK Treescapes” Strategic Programme Area and in the recognition of BIFoR FACE in the national research infrastructure roadmap.
Urban treescapes loom large in the national debates on climate and sustainability. Emma Ferranti, James Levine, and Nick Grayson continue to make a real difference to urban green infrastructure through their close ties to practitioners channelled through the Trees & Design Action Group, the WM Air project, and the soon-to-be-released Green Infrastructure for Roadside Air Quality GI4RAQ tool. Emma’s 'First Steps' practitioner guides, the latest of which was published in 2019, are gaining national prominence.
The growing team of experts are often called about for media interviews and to give their perspective on important current affairs. For example
- Rob MacKenzie’s online perspective on the revived political focus on trees - it advocated the planning of functional landscapes – ‘treescapes’ – rather than a narrow focus on numbers of trees in the ground.
- Tom Pugh’s response to the 2019/20 forest fires in Amazonia and Australia in the Birmingham Brief ‘The Forests are burning. What does this mean for our climate?’
2019 saw 7 journal articles published in the first-rank of general science journals (i.e., the Nature family, Science, PNAS) and another 24 published in top disciplinary international peer-reviewed journals. A full list of papers coming related to BIFoR is available.
The University’s new fundraising and volunteering campaign, Birmingham In Action, also launched late in 2019, and features BIFoR heavily in its focus on climate and environmental resilience. BIFoR exists because of far-sighted philanthropy, and philanthropy continues to make a huge difference to what BIFoR can deliver.
BIFoR gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the JABBS Foundation, John Horseman Trust, John and Lorna Powell, the Wolfson Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and BBSRC and of course the University of Birmingham.