Restoring the Scottish landscape

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Later this year, the University will open formal consultation on an ambitious project to transform a 431-hectare site at Drumbrae. Ahead of that process, Bulletin finds out more.


In October 2021, the University announced a multimillion-pound, long-term commitment to capture and store its unavoidable carbon emissions and benefit nature, by restoring peatlands and expanding forests in Scotland.

The commitment forms part of the University’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2040 and its impact will be felt first at Drumbrae, in the Ochils, near Stirling. Here, the team plans to plant trees to restore woodland, and to create and improve open habitats, to increase biodiversity.

Drumbrae is the first of several planned sites of woodland and peatland restoration, both on the University’s own land and with partners in Scotland, that will allow the University to capture and sequester carbon to help offset the unavoidable carbon emissions caused by its activities.

Tackling climate change

The University generates carbon emissions during many of its day-to-day activities, such as heating and lighting buildings across the estate, using its vehicle fleet, and flying for business travel.

To become net zero by 2040, the University is reducing these emissions as much as is possible, for example by electrifying its vehicle fleet, improving the way University buildings are powered and heated, and by replacing non-essential travel where alternatives are available.

Yvonne Edwards, Forest, Peat and Rural Land Manager at the University, says reducing carbon emissions is a key priority: “The climate crisis is a global emergency, and we need to act now. Our first priority is to reduce demand and minimise emissions.

“As a global university, our expected unavoidable emissions are those that are created by flying so where we can’t reduce our emissions further, we plan to capture and store carbon.”


Carbon capture

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide, such as by growing trees. It is recognised by the UN as an important way of dealing with carbon emissions that cannot be avoided altogether, such as from air travel.

Dr Matt Bell, Senior Lecturer and Honours Programme Organiser in Ecology, from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, says the plans for Drumbrae will enable this, and more.

“As the trees grow, they suck up carbon dioxide and that wood then locks up the carbon dioxide for decades or even hundreds of years. Other wildlife will start to move in as well – we’ll start to get birds moving in, a huge diversity of insects that are associated with the woodland that will develop, so over time we’ll get something approaching a functioning ecological system – something like what once existed.”



Benefits for all

Yvonne says the University’s plans for Drumbrae, and subsequent sites, will be designed to maximise the benefits for biodiversity and for the local community, as well as generating research, teaching, and learning opportunities.

“As well as helping nature to recover, we want it to be about long-term research and teaching and partnership opportunities,” she adds.

“We will have continued conversations with local communities and businesses to ensure that the opportunities for their involvement and benefits are maximised throughout the project.

“The areas that we use will all be open to the public and we want people to come and enjoy the green space and get people to think about what they can do about climate change and biodiversity.”

University staff, from any subject area, will also be able to request to use the Drumbrae site at zero cost. Examples could include using the site for data collection for science students; learning field skills; art students drawing inspiration from the landscape; or simply exploring ideas in an outdoor classroom.



Next steps

The team plans to work up detailed proposals for Drumbrae during August before opening a period of formal stakeholder consultation. Consultation will run from 28 August to 29 September.

Find out more about the plans for Drumbrae.

Feedback from the stakeholder engagement will be incorporated into the plan wherever possible.

The last stage will then see the final plan submitted to Scottish Forestry, the regulator, for formal approval.


Read the University’s climate strategy.

Read the University’s carbon sequestration plan.

Social Responsibility and Sustainability.