New data shows glaring disparity in England tree cover
- New analysis puts England’s tree cover at 12.8%, with just 10% made up by woodland – paling in comparison to the EU where woodland cover stands at 38%
- Areas with the highest levels of social deprivation have far fewer trees than the wealthiest neighbourhoods
- View a detailed briefing about the research which contains the top 20 areas in England where tree cover is highest and lowest – a full breakdown of the data is available in the notes section
- Friends of the Earth says the government must double tree cover to address the interlinked climate, nature and public health crises, prioritising tree planting in the most in-need areas
Using the latest technology to examine tree numbers across England, Friends of the Earth today reveals the woeful state of the nation’s tree cover and the striking contrast in their prevalence across the country.
The new analysis, carried out on behalf of Friends of the Earth by mapping experts Terra Sulis, has for the first time identified lone trees and street trees in England using newly available laser imaging, bolstering previous research which accounted only for trees in woodlands and those clustered in smaller groups.
Captured as part of a new interactive map that is searchable by postcode to compare tree levels between neighbourhoods and local authority areas, the latest data paints a bleak picture of tree canopy cover across England, which stands at a lowly 12.8%. Within this, 10% can be attributed to woodland, which is significantly lower than the EU average of 38%.
The new research also finds:
- 43% of neighbourhoods in England have less than 10% tree canopy cover, while a whopping 84% have less than 20% coverage
- There is a huge disparity between the areas where tree cover is lowest and highest. South Holland in Lincolnshire has been found to have the lowest tree cover in the country at only 2.2%, while Surrey Heath in Surrey ranks highest with 36.1%. Friends of the Earth has identified the top 20 local authority areas in England with both the lowest and highest tree levels
- Neighbourhoods that rank lowest on the Index of Multiple Deprivation – a measure that evaluates social disadvantage in the UK – have far fewer trees than the wealthiest neighbourhoods
The government’s existing goal for boosting tree numbers remains inadequately low. It would see tree cover rise to 16.5% by 2050 – significantly lower than average levels across the EU and what’s needed to help tackle the climate and nature emergency.
Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said:
“The UK government should be aiming to double tree cover in England by 2050 to ensure that people, no matter where they live or what their income, can experience the mental and physical health benefits that trees bring. Our new mapping identifies the areas that are missing out most on these life-enhancing protections, and where new tree planting should be prioritised.
“Current targets for tree planting are woefully inadequate and overlook the devastating impact that timber and wood imports from countries such as Brazil, China and Russia wreak on nature globally.
“We need many more trees for farming, urban cooling and absorbing harmful carbon emissions. There’s more than enough viable land to increase cover two-fold without compromising quality agricultural land or protected habitats. The government must get behind a far more ambitious plan to boost tree numbers and adopt this as an official target.”
Last year, Friends of the Earth published the report Why we need more trees in the UK, highlighting the many benefits that trees can offer, and what communities living in areas with low tree numbers are missing out on. These include:
- Urban cooling – trees provide important shade during heatwaves and also create a cooling effect when water evaporates from their leaves. There are 3,790 neighbourhoods in England with less than 5% tree cover – more than four fifths of these are in urban areas where extreme heat is most problematic. Friends of the Earth published research on the areas most vulnerable to extreme heat last year.
- Health – according to Public Health England, greener environments are known to have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, helping to enhance quality of life for both children and adults while reducing levels of depression, anxiety and fatigue. Trees also play an important role in influencing air quality and can help to absorb harmful gases and particles from the air.
- Nature – more trees are needed in the UK not only because it is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, but also to boost the production of homegrown timber. This is vital to stem imports of timber and other wood products from countries driving global deforestation and biodiversity loss such as Brazil, China, and Russia.
- Farming – integrating trees into farming, called agroforestry, can help to protect soils, provide shelter for livestock, and diversify income for farmers through the sale of fruits, nuts, and wood products.
Previous research by Friends of the Earth has found that there is more than enough viable land to double England’s tree cover without impeding on good agricultural land and avoiding planting in protected habitats.
Notes to editors 1. Friends of the Earth has published a new map which shows tree cover across England using the most readily available data.
2. A detailed briefing on the new research, which identifies the top 20 areas with the highest and lowest tree levels, is available on the Friends of the Earth policy site.
4. The report, Why we need more trees in the UK, was produced in 2022.
5. Analysis of the areas most vulnerable to extreme heat in England and Wales was published in 2022.
6. A report on where the land to double England’s tree cover can be found was published in 2019.