England’s national parks fail to fight climate & nature crisis

Overall woodland cover across all national parks in England is less than 15%
  Published:  02 Oct 2020    |      3 minute read
  • Several of England’s most iconic national parks have lower woodland cover than our large cities
  • Mapping by Friends of the Earth shows some national parks could have up to seven times more woodland than they currently do
  • Important habitats, such as peatbogs, found to be in worse condition in national parks than in the rest of England

Friends of the Earth today (2nd October) launches a report, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, revealing that England’s national parks are failing to step up to the climate and nature crisis.

England’s national parks were once filled with temperate rainforests and wild woods. Today the overall woodland cover across all national parks in England is less than 15%. Friends of the Earth analysis has found that this could be more than doubled to 34%, without damaging other important habitats such as peatbogs.

Some of our most famous national parks have lower woodland cover than major cities:

  • Woodland cover in the Yorkshire Dales (4.1%) is lower than London (4.5%)
  • Woodland cover in the Peak District (8.4%) is lower than Leeds (9.8%)
  • Woodland cover in the Lake District (12.6%) is lower than Sheffield (13.3%)

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

Friends of the Earth mapped the potential for woodland in national parks, without infringing on high conservation-value habitats, protected nature reserves and other sensitive sites:

Table shows current and potential levels of woodland in England's national parks

Friends of the Earth’s survey of National Park Authority reveals that very little woodland has been created over the past five years. Six out of the ten English national parks do not record this data – an oversight that Friends of the Earth is calling to be changed.

In addition to woodland failures, data obtained from Natural England by Friends of the Earth revealed that only 26% of protected habitat within national parks (such as peatlands) is in a healthy state. This is far less than England as a whole, where 39% of protected habitat is in a healthy state. When peatlands such as blanket bog are in good condition, they act as carbon sinks and help fight the climate crisis.

Friends of the Earth trees campaigner, Danny Gross, said:

“England’s national parks have not risen to the challenge of the climate and nature crisis. This isn’t even listed in their core purposes set out by the government.

“National parks cover roughly a tenth of England’s land and offer enormous opportunities for natural climate solutions, such as woodland creation and peatland restoration, which would also go a long way to support new wildlife.

“We have a chance to make England’s national parks trailblazers for natural climate solutions such as woodland and other precious habitats. It’s time for National Park Authorities, the government and landowners to step up and work together to fight the climate crisis.”

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

“England’s forests and woodlands have a vital role to play in the fight against climate change and this research provides a fascinating insight into the potential level of tree cover which could be achieved in the country’s national parks.

“Our players have raised more than £30 million for charities working to protect and enhance our woodland and the wildlife which depends upon it for survival. By doing so, they’re also helping limit our impact on the climate.”

Notes

  1. Read the full briefing Missing in action: Natural climate solutions in England’s national parks and summary Friends of the Earth recommendations online here
  2. Friends of the Earth commissioned research from GIS mapping consultancy Terra Sulis to identify woodland opportunities in national parks and across England.
    • The analysis showed that it would be possible to increase total woodland cover in national parks from less than 15% to almost 35% without infringing on Priority Habitats, designated sites (such as SSSIs), valuable farmland (grades 1 – 3a), peatlands and Grade 4 land that’s regularly used for growing crops
    • Friends of the Earth assumed an ongoing reduction in use of land for pasture as meat and dairy consumption declines, as government health guidelines recommend, thereby freeing up land for woodland
  3. Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to take measure including:
    • Amend the statutory purposes of national parks to include mitigating climate breakdown
    • Support National Park Authorities to organise a coordinated approach to natural climate solutions (such as woodland creation and peatland restoration)
    • Introduce financial mechanisms to support National Park Authorities to gradually buy up land within their national parks to restore critical habitats and ecosystems
    • Provide more funding to landowners for growing trees and woodlands that are suitable for National Park landscapes
  4. Some of the measures Friends of the Earth is calling for from National Park Authorities include to:
    • Set targets to become carbon negative within the entire national parks
    • Set long-term woodland cover targets for each national park, with a timeframe and interim targets to monitor progress
    • Gather and publicly share data on the extent of woodland creation