Friends of the Earth reveals the frontlines in the fight for trees

Press release
Marking 100 years since the UK started a tree planting drive, environmental organisation shows the communities most in need of trees and where they are fighting the hardest to save them.
  Published:  19 Jun 2019    |      5 minute read
  • Friends of the Earth launches new campaign to double tree cover as part of the fight against climate breakdown.
  • Thirteen thousand hectares of newly created woodland were reported in the UK in 2018-19. Planting at this rate would mean it would be 237 years before tree cover is doubled in the UK.
    • Friends of the Earth is calling for this annual rate to increase substantially.

From Darlington to Belfast, Swansea to Merseyside, these are communities where trees are needed the most or where residents are fighting hardest to save their precious trees. Local stories and photographs available here.

Emi Murphy, trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Trees do an amazing job of removing climate-wrecking carbon from the atmosphere which is why we need to double tree cover to help the fight against climate chaos.

“Having more trees will also protect local communities from the climate breakdown that we’re already seeing across the UK; from heatwaves to flooding. Government targets for tree planting are nowhere near what we need, and ministers such as Chris Grayling have been far too willing to push through damaging infrastructure projects which result in yet more trees being felled.”

  1. Hebden Bridge planting thousands of trees to defend against flooding

Communities across the UK have been devastated by more frequent, and more extreme, flooding in recent years as human induced climate breakdown takes hold. Pilot schemes of planting trees as natural flood defences have shown that peak water levels can be reduced by up to 25%. We obviously need to stop climate breakdown from causing these floods in the first place but the immediate benefit of tree planting to the communities most at risk of flooding is clear.

Treesponsibility is a local action group working in and around Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, working with local communities to plant 250,000 trees in the past 20 years to defend against flooding. 

  1. BAME communities deprived of health benefits of trees and greenspace

Living close to woodland or other greenspace is essential for our wellbeing, yet 2.5 million people across Britain live more than 10 minutes’ walk away from their nearest park or greenspace.

Members of black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME) are significantly less likely to have regular visits to natural spaces and are therefore more at risk of missing out on the health benefits of trees and nature.

Jazz Ketibuah is part of the Green and Black Ambassador project, working to address the exclusion of BAME and other marginalised communities from the natural environment. 

  1. Politicians are robbing Darlington community of its trees

Darlington has become a bitter battleground in the fight for trees, with the suburb of Blackwell last year seeing 200 established native British trees, including beech, oak and ash, felled to make way for a new luxury housing development.

Michael Green, along with his wife Angela, campaign as part of the #LoveDarloTrees Network. They are now fighting to stop further wild woodland from being destroyed in the town. 

  1. Merseyside community fights Chris Grayling to save Rimrose Valley

Rimrose Valley is a green lung for the local community, used by childrento get to school and play football, by families for picnics and by local schools for nature learning. It is a wild, green space, full of trees, in a densely populated and industrialised area of South Sefton. It includes two Sites of Special Local Biological Interest.

Highways England and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling have reaffirmed their intent to destroy Rimrose Valley and build a road to support the increase in HGV traffic to and from the recently expanded Port of Liverpool. They’ve faced staunch opposition from campaigners in the local community, who are fighting hard to protect their greenspace. 

  1. In Warwickshire, HS2 is threatening ancient woodland

Phase one of HS2, between London and Birmingham risks the loss of 34 ancient woodlands. Warwickshire communities around Kenilworth and Berkswell have become frontline battlegrounds in the fight for trees, with the HS2 rail project directly impacting at least six ancient woodlands locally.

This could result in the loss of approximately 8.1 ha of irreplaceable ancient woodland habitat. The mature trees contained within these sites are the most effective at absorbing carbon emissions and supporting biodiversity. 

  1. The Belfast communities joining forces to plant a million trees in the city

Belfast’s community associations have launched a campaign to plant one million trees within the Belfast city boundary.

The Belfast Metropolitan Residents Group (BMRG), which has made the proposal, is an umbrella group comprising 24 community associations within the greater Belfast area. The BMRG is proposing the planting of a million trees within the Belfast city boundary over the next 15 years. 

  1. Ancient woodland in Derry under threat from planners

Prehen Ancient Woodland is located approximately 2 miles from the City of Derry. It is one of the last tracts of ancient woodland in Northern Ireland, home to rare wildlife including the red squirrel and is one of the top ten Bluebell Woods in the UK. The woodland used to cover hundreds of acres, but the timber industry and development of housing has cut it down to just eighteen acres.

Friends of the Earth has been supporting local campaigners in their fight against development which would bring further destruction to Prehen. 

  1. Swansea takes on tree felling property developers

In November 2018 Enzo Homes ltd illegally felled 70 protected mature trees, including a giant redwood, at Penllergare Valley Woods near Swansea.

A campaign for justice launched by Swansea Friends of the Earth – including a petition which was signed by over 5000 people demanding legal action – has resulted in a trial date being set for August. This will see the local council seeking to prosecute Enzo Homes and two individuals for the felling of trees covered by tree protection orders.

  1. Londoners in need of trees for protection from extreme heat

Extreme heatwaves could be the norm by the 2040s, causing heat-related deaths in the UK to triple. The heatwaves during summer 2018 led to an estimated 863 excess deaths, with London seeing the highest spike – 195 excess deaths during the heatwave of 21st to 29th July. Green spaces including parks and woodland are known to reduce excessive heat and, in towns and cities can help regulate the ‘urban heat island’ effect. Yet urban green space in England alone has declined from 63% in 2001 to 56% in 2016.


Notes to editors:

  1. Full press releases available on request for the above frontlines
  2. In 1919 Parliament passed the Forestry Act. This created the Forestry Commission and saw the UK launch a tree planting drive which doubled woodland cover to its current level. However, just 13% of the UK’s total land area has woodland cover (compared to an EU average of 35%). Friends of the Earth is therefore campaigning to double UK tree cover.
  3. The list of frontlines is based on previous scientific research, surveyed by Friends of the Earth, into the benefits trees can have; including their role as natural flood defences and ability to cool urban areas. The list is also based on where Friends of the Earth has seen first-hand the impact on communities of trees being felled, and how passionately people will fight to stop this happening.
  4. Evidence and sources document available on request 
  5. 2018 report by Natural England found that members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) population were among the less frequent visitors to the natural environment. 46% of the BAME population visited the natural environment at least once a week, compared with 63% of the white population.
  6. Friends of the Earth wants to double tree cover as part of our fight against climate chaos. Doubling tree cover could remove 10% of UK's current planet-wrecking emissions annually.