Revealed: unpublished government data shows England has enough land to triple tree cover

Analysis by Friends of the Earth shows there is sufficient suitable land for an additional 3.2m hectares of trees on top of existing woodland
  Published:  22 Jul 2020    |      2 minute read

Friends of the Earth has analysed unpublished Forestry Commission data and found that there is enough suitable land in England to triple tree cover in England, without impacting on other Priority Habitats such as peat bogs. This follows the recent launch of the government’s England Tree Strategy, which failed to commit to any tree planting target for England.

Analysis of the data by Friends of the Earth shows there is sufficient suitable land for an additional 3.2m hectares of trees on top of existing woodland, which would take England’s tree cover, from the current level of 10% (1.36m ha out of 13m ha total), to 35%.

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

Guy Shrubsole, trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Restoring forests in England has huge potential for fighting the climate and nature crisis. This data, which the government seems to ignore, shows how much land there is for this – all without impacting pre-existing key habitats.

“But ministers are still failing to grow enough trees, and even failed to set a target in the recent England Tree Strategy. This must change. The climate crisis is only going to get more dire if proper action isn’t taken so it’s time for the government to set out a plan for at least doubling tree cover, alongside huge cuts in emissions in areas such as transport.”

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery (which funds tree planting projects across the country) said:

“We’re in desperate need of more trees. By planting trees, we can boost community health and wellbeing, while fighting climate change. I’m really pleased that funding raised by our players is supporting essential tree planting projects across the country, and hope that ministers will take notice of this public enthusiasm and the fact that there’s more than enough land out there for trees.”

The Forestry Commission’s data screens out protected and precious wildlife sites (including SSSIs and Priority Habitats, such as peat bogs and species-rich grassland) and valuable farmland ('Likelihood of Best and Most Versatile Agricultural Land’, Grades 1-3a). It considers planting trees on Grades 3b and 4 land.

The data also excludes National Parks and AONBs from any consideration for increased tree cover. Friends of the Earth disagrees with this, given how many of our National Parks have been stripped of forests, and are failing to do enough to restore nature. Allowing more of our upland National Parks to naturally regenerate with vegetation – alongside restoring damaged peat bogs – would boost the potential land for tree cover still higher, leading to more carbon being locked up and wilder National Parks for everyone to enjoy.

Notes

  1. The maps - 'Low Risk Areas for Woodland Creation' - can be seen by zooming in to a local area on this Forestry Commission interactive map page, and ticking the box ‘Targeting and Scoring > Low-Risk Areas for Woodland Creation’. The potential areas for woodland creation then appear in yellow. The overall area data hasn't previously been published by the Forestry Commission.
  2. A full description of the datasets used by the Forestry Commission to produce these maps, and what is included and excluded, can be found in Annexes 2 & 3 of this document.