10 MAY 2021

Growing natural capital: Morgan Sindall Group and Blenheim Estate to create nine new woodlands

BakerHicks’ parent company, Morgan Sindall Group, will create nine new woodlands in partnership with the Blenheim Estate in Oxfordshire, planting more than a quarter of a million trees to transform the land as part of an ambitious series of sustainability initiatives.

The project will be delivered in conjunction with Grown In Britain, an independent not-for-profit that the Group helped set up in 2011, who focus on revitalising and investing in woodlands and certifying British wood products.

Chief Executive John Morgan said:

“This exciting project is about more than our quest to achieve net zero; this is about creating a legacy with an environmental net gain and the creation of substantial natural capital, across the board. Our woodlands will provide measurable, demonstrable gains in terms of soil, air and water quality, not to mention the wellbeing benefits for all those who can come and enjoy the woodlands as they grow.”

Commenting on the new partnership, Blenheim Estates Director, Roy Cox, said:

“One of our strategic aims in the next five years is to not only offset our own carbon to be net zero, but also to help others do the same. This partnership with Morgan Sindall is a first for us and is incredibly exciting in terms of both scale and what it will deliver in improving our estate, the environment and surrounding communities.’’

Dougal Driver of Grown In Britain, adds:

“This truly is a different approach, while many choose to carbon offset by planting trees on the other side of the world, Morgan Sindall are taking a responsible approach – choosing sites in their own backyard, with a longer-term view and a commitment to support and nurture this forest for years to come.”

Green corridor

Forests and woodlands offer numerous benefits, including absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, regulating temperature and cleaning the air. The project will improve the biodiversity of the area significantly, improving the quality of soil, air, water and biodiversity.

Morgan Sindall will help fund, design and create the woodlands, in collaboration with Cotswolds-based forestry company, Nicholsons. The woods will incorporate 28 carefully selected varieties of tree, including Hornbeam, Lime, Sycamore, Wild Cherry, Oak, Norway Maple, Alder and Beech in the mixed woodlands, with an understorey of woody shrub species, such as Hazel, Hawthorn, Viburnums, Euonymus and Dogwoods, to create a diverse and self-sustaining eco-system. Experimental species will also be included to assess climate resilience and a small percentage of conifer planted to provide winter habitats for wildlife.

It is hoped the project, which will regenerate woodland in the Dorn and Glyme Valleys area of the Blenheim Estate, will be the first of many for the Group.

Roy Cox, Estates Director at Blenheim Estate, comments:

“This will have a real and immediate impact on the Dorn Valley woodland at Blenheim, creating a ‘green corridor’ along the River Dorn which will prevent soil erosion into the world-famous Blenheim Great Lake. Crucially, it will also offer the opportunity for local people of all ages to get involved and improve the landscape we all share.”

Long-term thinking

Whilst having an immediate impact in terms of biodiversity, soil erosion prevention and cleaner water, this will be a legacy project, which across a quarter of a century will capture a total of 22,000 tonnes of carbon.

Professor of Biodiversity at Oxford University, Kathy Willis, welcomed the project, commenting:

“This project demonstrates an understanding of the need for considered, long-term thinking around our woodlands and an appreciation of the crucial role they play in creating spaces that contribute to creating natural capital and enhancing human wellbeing.”

The project also aims to set new standards for auditing and transparency, with changes to the air, water and soil monitored, and carbon levels tracked using state-of-the-art technology, including drones with Artificial Intelligence, to quantify environmental changes.

Through the experience and knowledge gained on this project, woodlands are also planned to be integrated into many of the Group’s future designs for housing, development and urban regeneration projects.

A pioneering collaboration

The project will be the first scheme of its type planted under the Forest Canopy Foundation (FCF), a not-for-profit collaboration of private sector forestry companies who have joined forces under the Foundation’s umbrella to demonstrate technical rigour and quality in woodland creation.

Partnering with Grown in Britain, for independent auditing of both expert providers and woodland schemes, the collaboration measures all-natural capital assets, such as cleaner water and air and richer soil, seeking to share and deepen understanding of the worth of woodland creation.

Liz Nicholson, of the FCF, suggested that Morgan Sindall’s investment was pioneering and would blaze a trail for others to follow. The Foundation is working on valuing natural capital to enable companies to invest in environmental projects in a measurable way, developing mechanisms to report ESG investment at board level.