New maps show how to double woodland cover in England

Photo credit: Jill Jennings.

By Anders Lorenzen

Coinciding with National Tree Week (30th November – 6th of December), Friends of the Earth (FOE) UK have mapped out how woodland cover could be doubled in the UK. This comes on the back of the UK government having pledged to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year until 2025. 

The green group has together with the mapping consultancy Terra Sulis, and with the support of People’s Postcode Lottery, launched what they say is the first ever map of both existing and potential woodland in every local authority in England. According to the mapping it would be possible to double woodland cover in England from today’s 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. Based on that, FOE says it is crucial that the government supports farmers to grow more trees on their land.

Northumberland holds the highest potential 

The county of Northumberland was found to hold the most promise of any local authority, with 77,000 hectares (ha) of potential woodland. The other top opportunity areas for woodland creation includes Cornwall (73,000ha), Shropshire (47,000ha), and Eden District  (43,000ha). 

For some of these areas, woodland plans are already in place. Their research found that in 20 local authority areas there is the potential to at least quadruple woodland cover, in 34 areas to triple woodland cover, in 63 to double, and in 86 to increase woodland cover by at least 75%.

Government and local authority support needed

To spur action the green group is calling on all local councils to commit to boosting woodland cover. But they argued central government support is crucial, and make available funding for local authorities to fight the climate crisis. Farmers should be encouraged to grow more trees on their land. In addition, FOE says a national tree cover target should be included in the England Tree Strategy, which is expected this winter. The group was also keen to underline that the mapping only includes potential woodland in the countryside, and does not include possibilities for more trees in urban areas, streets, public parks and gardens.

Minister refuses to commit to more ambitious targets 

FOE tree campaigner Danny Gross commented on the mapping results: “We’re calling on Forestry Minister Zac Goldsmith to mark 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.”

In a special tree summit hosted by FOE on Monday the 1st of December at which Goldsmith spoke, the minister refused to commit to increasing the government’s tree planting targets in line with the mapping after being challenged by the green group. But he emphasized that what the government has already committed to is substantial and will do a lot. 

Globally tree planting is being highlighted as absolutely key to meeting climate targets. 

You can see the various potentials in the different areas in England in this online map by typing in the relevant postcode.

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