Friends of the Earth reveals local opportunities to boost woodland

Dozens of Local Authority Areas have the potential for doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled woodland cover
  Published:  25 Nov 2020    |      4 minute read
  • Environmental campaigners mark National Tree Week (30th November – 6th December) with map of local woodland creation opportunities across the country
  • Woodland cover in England could be doubled from current national level of 10%, without impact on important habitats and high value farmland
  • Dozens of Local Authority Areas have the potential for doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled woodland cover

Friends of the Earth and mapping consultancy Terra Sulis, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, have launched the first ever map of existing and potential woodland in every local authority in England.

Ahead of National Tree Week (30th November to 6th December), the mapping shows the possibility of doubling woodland cover in England from its current level of 10% without encroaching on high-value arable farmland, Priority Habitats, peat bogs or protected nature sites. Much of the opportunity for woodland is low grade pastureland, which means it’s crucial that government supports farmers to grow more trees on their land.

Northumberland was found to hold the most promise of any local authority, with 77,000 hectares of potential woodland. The other top opportunity areas for woodland creation included Cornwall (73,000ha), Shropshire (47,000ha), and Eden District (43,000ha). Woodland plans are in place for some of these areas.

Visit Friends of the Earth’s online map, enter your postcode and click the map to see current and opportunity woodland cover in your local authority area. You can also see a league table showing the Local Authorities with the largest woodland creation opportunity (in hectares and percentage increase). Download the full dataset here.

Tell the UK government to double tree cover to help tackle the climate emergency.

The analysis of local woodland opportunities found that:

  • In 20 local authority areas, there is the potential to at least quadruple woodland cover
  • In 34 local authority areas, there is the potential to at least triple woodland cover
  • In 63 local authority areas, there is the potential to at least double woodland cover
  • In 86 local authority areas, there is the potential to increase woodland cover by at least 75%

The environmental campaign group is calling on local councils to commit to boosting woodland cover. But it’s also crucial that central government support and funding is in place for local authorities to fight the climate crisis, and for farmers to grow more trees on their land. Friends of the Earth say a national tree cover target should be included in the England Tree Strategy, which is expected this winter.

The map only covers potential woodland and does not include opportunities for trees in urban areas - such as street trees, public parks and gardens. Including these would highlight significantly more opportunities to grow trees in England. Several urban councils, including Blackpool, Bristol, Hackney, Leeds and Wigan have already committed to double tree cover within their local authority areas.

Danny Gross, tree campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“We're calling on Forestry Minister Zac Goldsmith to mark next week’s National Tree Week by setting an ambitious target to boost tree cover in England. Growing more trees would help us fight climate breakdown while enabling more people to access nature in their local area. We need more councils to step up and grow more trees, but it’s time that ministers in Westminster offer more funding for climate action at a local level.”

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:

“This mapping research shows the game-changing potential of local climate action. Trees are a highly valuable natural solution to address the climate crisis, so I’m delighted that players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting research into woodland creation and tree planting in communities across the country.”

Notes

  1. Use Friends of the Earth’s online map, enter your postcode and click the map to see existing and opportunity woodland cover in your local authority area.
    1. “NFI existing woodland” refers to the percentage of the local authority area that is already covered in woodland, as measured by the government’s National Forest Inventory (NFI).
    2. “Future opportunity” refers to the percentage of the local authority area identified in the study as potentially suitable for woodland creation.
  2. Full local authority dataset, showing current and potential woodland in hectares and land percentage, can be downloaded here.
  3. The data for existing woodland is sourced from the government’s National Forest Inventory, the most comprehensive survey of woodlands in England. This covers any woodland in Great Britain of at least 0.5 hectares in area with a minimum width of 20 m, and that have at least 20% tree canopy cover.
  4. To calculate opportunity woodland, the study excluded:
    1. Good quality farmland (grades 1 – 3a).
    2. Priority habitats.
    3. Upland peat bogs.
    4. Protected areas designated for the conservation of habitats and species (such as SSSIs).
    5. Urban areas, non-agricultural land and water bodies.
    6. Pasture land that hasn't been ploughed for a number of years because some of these might be valuable for more diverse plant life.
    7. Existing woodland.
  5. The data focusses on potential woodland creation and does not include trees in urban areas – such as street trees, public parks and gardens. Many urban areas however do have opportunities to grow more trees. Several urban councils, including Blackpool, Bristol, Hackney, Leeds and Wigan have committed to double tree cover within their local authority areas.
  6. The data also doesn’t reflect opportunities for agroforestry – planting trees on high value farmland. This includes a range of approaches - from growing thicker, taller hedgerows, to planting shelter belts, growing trees amongst livestock or arable crops or even vegetables, and woodland grazing. Agroforestry can aid farm diversification and increase productivity. The Committee on Climate Change has suggested that agroforestry could be adopted on 10% of UK cropland and permanent pasture
  7. Limitations in official data mean the woodland opportunity map has not comprehensively excluded all potentially sensitive sites. For example, the Government’s maps of species-rich grassland are incomplete, and more research needs to be carried out about the locations of these biodiverse meadows. Before starting a woodland creation program, it is vital to undertake an ecological survey. Important archaeological sites also need to be excluded, which may need to be done on a case-by-case basis.