Royal Oak? Prince Charles visits Norbury eco experiment

• Royal Oak: HRH The Prince of Wales and Birmingham University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Sir David Eastwood unveil a plaque marking the Prince’s visit to BiFOR FACE. Photo courtesy of The University of Birmingham.

A Staffordshire woodland laid on a royal reception when HRH Prince Charles visited the BiFOR FACE facility near Eccleshall on July 24.

Hosted by the Birmingham Institute of Forestry Research, (BiFOR), FACE is a Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment facility set up in mature oak woodland near Norbury Junction.

The 10-year experiment is assessing the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on temperate forest ecosystems. This is achieved by artificially raising the CO2 level around patches of mature woodland without enclosing or damaging the environment. The results will help scientists to predict the effects of the atmospheric changes expected by 2050, and to measure the capacity of the forest to lock away carbon released by fossil fuel burning.

His Royal Highness unveiled a plaque to mark his visit, which took place 12 months after the experiment launched in April 2017.

The Prince was given a guided tour of the facility, which is exploring how forest systems will respond to future increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide, including the effects on forest growth and on forest food webs. Geological research indicates that it is tens of millions of years since Earth had this much carbon dioxide in its air on average.

The Prince was given a bottle, found in the woodland during the project’s construction, which contains a sample of the air being used in the experiment. This contains 150 parts-per-million more carbon dioxide than UK air in July 2018.

Welcoming the Prince to BiFOR FACE, Birmingham University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir David Eastwood said:

“As visions for sustainable growth recognise the need for increased forest coverage, only ambitious experimentation such as BIFoR FACE can provide the robust evidence base for decision-making on how to manage our scarce land resource.”

The Prince then attended a meeting of the Action Oak group, which was held at the facility, where academics from Birmingham University and elsewhere presented research focused on the resilience of the UK’s most charismatic tree to pests, diseases, and climate change.