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, one 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. He was joined in September 2020 by Dr Mojgan Rabiey, working on a new project in collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) to study bacterial pathogen evolution in cherry trees. He is also currently recruiting eight new staff and PhD students to work on a range of tree disease questions. Dr Megan McDonald is a new Birmingham Fellow and will work on fungal pathogens of plants to study their genomes and evolution of virulence. Dr Florian Busch arrived as a new lecturer studying theoretical and experimental plant physiology, particularly with a focus on photosynthesis. These appointments will now ensure we can step up our research in the area of resilience of trees to invasive pests and diseases.
Dr Laura Graham joined the University in 2020, with her focus on how climate and land-use change impacts global ecosystems and human well-being. Dr Adriane Esquivel-Muelbert has been appointed to a lectureship to study how global forests are impacted and change according to climate change. We also welcome Dr Susanne Suvanto joining on a 2-year Marie Curie fellowship (ForMMI). Through these and other 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”.
There were several major activities in 2020 that have effects on the plant and forestry sector: the Future of UK Treescapes Funding call, the UKRI/BBSRC Plant Sciences Strategy, English Tree Strategy consultation, the Science and innovation strategy for forestry in Great Britain, EUExit.
Members of BIFoR have been able to contribute to all these initiatives. Notably, BIFoR colleagues contributed to a POSTNote on Reforestation and submitted the first position piece to the parliamentary enquiry into tree planting and woodlands in November 2020, thus demonstrating our commitment to ensuring a strong institute voice reflecting our science discoveries.
Given the new arrival of staff, and a natural evolution of the institute, there have been several changes in governance. In January 2020, the new Advisory Group (external members) had their first meeting, stimulating excellent discussions on past activities and future ideas and strategies.
Following a £1M award from The Wolfson Foundation and further matched funding from the University, a state-of-the-art Advanced Glasshouse facility is being built at Elms Road on the Edgbaston campus. This facility can house small trees, enable work on category 2 pathogens and has, in addition to temperature, humidity and light controls, provision for CO2 fumigation to study the impacts on tree and pathogen performance in different climates.
We have also formulated our future plans for education and outreach activities. Although COVID has stymied physical visits of schools to the FACE site, our new virtual tour has proven to be a hit with teachers and school students. We now aim to stimulate new activities that provide online resources for Schools, Colleges and Universities as well as wider stakeholder groups.
Urban treescapes still 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.
2020 saw 6 journal articles published in the first-rank of general science journals (i.e., the Nature family, Science, PNAS). A publications is available.
The University’s new fundraising and volunteering campaign, Birmingham In Action, has continued despite obvious set backs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 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.
Read more about BIFoR in 2020, in our Annual Report.