This review covers the Trust’s work across a 17 month span, January 2020 to May 2021, to reflect a shift in our financial accounting period.

Out of challenging times, the Trust is forging an ever bolder vision for the UK’s woods and trees. Our chief executive Darren Moorcroft explains...

When 2020 began, I'd just started as chief executive of the Woodland Trust, and it's fair to say it's been an extraordinary year.

With Covid hitting, we had to shut our offices, we had to cancel our events, and we also had to ask our volunteers to down tools.

We were also hit by a cyber-attack which knocked out many of our systems, which meant communicating with our members was tricky.

But throughout all that we've made a real difference standing up for woods and trees. I'm really proud of the fact that we've invested more money in the cause this year than ever before.

It's helped us to establish an Emergency Tree Fund, £3 million to green up urban areas for people and nature. We've also acquired £6 million worth of new land for planting new trees but also protecting existing woodland.

But perhaps proudest of all is that we've enabled communities and schools to make their difference. Millions of trees have now established as a result of school children and communities putting their shoulder to the wheel with us to help tackle the nature and climate crisis.

We simply couldn't do it without them, and we couldn't do it without you. So thank you for your support and I look forward to the rest of the decade being the most impactful for woods and trees.        

Reflections from the last 17 months

Darren reflects back on his own personal highlights from 2020-21.

Credit: Laurie Campbell / WTML

Valuing the peace woodland offers

Many people retreated to a back-garden office during the Covid lockdowns – and mine was the 500-year-old oak tree that squats in a field behind my Suffolk home. Under its canopy I rallied the Trust’s staff scattered far and wide by the pandemic, and recorded messages of thanks for our terrific members and supporters. I also found a sense of peace and permanence there in troubled times – and the messages we received from nature lovers nationwide told me they too were finding solace among the woods on their doorstep. 

Credit: John Murray / WTML

Opening up more woodland access 

Getting out in the woods was trickier last year, but I vividly recall my hike at Hainault Forest, a remnant of the medieval wildwood that once hemmed East London. Our project to extend the woods there is a great example of the Trust’s developing priorities: it will offer rest and recreation to people from all communities, it will buffer existing habitat so wildlife can spread, and we’re partnering with Redbridge Council to open our first ever visitor centre in the south of England, too. But the stand-out moment for me was seeing my first purple emperor butterfly, a real rarity. It fluttered down and posed beside the path for us – what a treat!

Credit: Michael Cooper Photography

Bringing more woodland into our care

When it comes to making a rapid impact for people and wildlife, nothing beats buying the land ourselves. The Trust spent £6 million on acquisitions across 2020–21, including Ausewell Woods in Devon, a hotbed of special wildlife tumbling down to the River Dart. For me, though, one purchase tops them all: Mourne Park in Northern Ireland. It’s a secret valley full of fat old oaks and alive with pine martens and red squirrels. I felt a palpable sense of history walking its riverside, and I love the fact it will soon be open to everyone. We are restoring it to its former glory – part of a UK-wide drive to get degraded ancient woodland back to health.

1,000-plus
woods kept open
All our woods remained open during the pandemic, offering a lifeline to those struggling physically and mentally from its toll.

10 major milestones

Here’s how we made a difference across all our areas of work in 2020–21 – thanks in no small part to your unwavering support.

Campaigns

When one of the Trust’s best-loved sanctuaries in Wales came under threat from the bulldozers, we sprang into action. A proposed dam-building project would have devastated Cwm George & Casehill Woods, three miles west of Cardiff, which draw more than 50,000 visitors a year. They are a stronghold for noctule bats, hazel dormice and kingfishers, and our struggle to save them saw 350 locals join us on a march there in 2019.

We were rewarded a year later when the Welsh Government’s environment agency, Natural Resources Wales, finally ditched the plans. The victory was just one among many for our hard-working campaigns team in 2020–21. In total, the Trust rallied to the cause of 396 cases of ancient woods and trees under threat across the UK. In South Yorkshire, 850 year-old Smithy Wood was spared the axe after an even longer battle, when proposals for an M1 service station were withdrawn. No fewer than 13 ancient woods were protected from ammonia pollution when we cried foul over a poultry farm plan near Bicester, and we even took up cudgels against the Netflix blockbuster Bridgerton, whose makers wanted to build a film set close to woodland in Windsor Great Park. Plans for a damaging new ringroad outside Hereford were successfully scotched, too.

New woods

The remote Dartmoor tor that harboured the Hound of the Baskervilles. The seaside woods thought to have inspired Narnia. And a ‘fairy glen’ once owned by the great Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. These are just three of the special landscapes gathered into the Trust’s judicious care last year, as we expanded our estate by buying woods old and new. We invested £6.1 million in all, and our generous members and supporters often helped us over the line – like at Ausewell Wood, a pulsating wooded ravine on Dartmoor, where we’ll strip out plantation conifers and revive the original Atlantic rainforest habitat for the resident peregrine falcons and pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies.

Several purchases will see us expand much-loved woods we own already, like at Hucking Estate in Kent and Ledmore & Migdale in Sutherland. But most eyecatching, perhaps, were our twin acquisitions in Northern Ireland: historic Mourne Park, a one-time haunt of CS Lewis; and Glas-na-Bradan Wood, our new refuge in the Belfast Hills, where volunteers will plant 150,000 trees on a panoramic peak commanding the country’s capital.

Urban trees and woods

For the Woodland Trust, 2020 began with a clarion call for the repair and regeneration of our natural world. Published that January, our Emergency Tree Plan offered a bold blueprint for boosting the UK’s forest canopy from 13% to 19% by 2050, calling on governments to fund a 150% hike in annual planting rates and find new money to incentivise the natural regeneration of woodland.

But it’s not enough to shout from the sidelines. By August we had turned that vision into action with the launch of our Emergency Tree Fund, which is supporting major community planting partnerships with 12 local authorities across Britain. They include schemes in three capital cities – Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast –and will directly bankroll 800,000 trees.

Perhaps the most surprising beneficiary was Sheffield, where the city council abandoned its controversial street-tree felling programme after an eight-year campaign led by passionate locals. Last March Sheffield unveiled an alternative tree strategy forged with help from the Trust, which is now a model for urban forestry nationwide.

Volunteering

When Covid first gripped back in March 2020, the Trust’s brilliant batallion of volunteers were forced to halt their work. Yet as folk sought solace in the nature on their doorsteps, our vital citizen science projects saw a surge in interest. One winner was the Ancient Tree Inventory, which had more than 4,000 trees added in the four months after lockdown. Almost 500 new volunteer recorders signed up – people like Stuart Klinke, who added the ‘Skull Tree’, this remarkable gnarled beech in Durham’s Hamsterley Forest.

In memory

In life, Captain Sir Tom Moore walked his way to world renown – and a place in the nation’s hearts – by raising over £38 million for the NHS response to coronavirus. Today his legacy continues: he is contributing to the wellbeing of both people and wildlife thanks to a campaign to plant trees in his honour with the Woodland Trust. The idea was hatched by Sir Tom’s daughter Lucy, and well-wishers have donated more than £120,000 in all, which will pay for thousands of trees to enrich the streamside meadows at the Trust’s Higher & Lower Holme House Wood, near Keighley.

It’s a landscape the devoted countryman explored as a boy, and his memorial grove will connect two surviving ancient woods, already known for its bluebells and darting with kingfishers. The centrepiece will be a beautiful curved stone bench, inscribed in his memory, and his family hopes the wood will stand in tribute to all those lost to Covid-19. Sir Tom, we salute you!

Our father had a lifetime of being in nature. Creating something enduring that will combat climate change and offer solace and serenity for people affected by the pandemic is a perfect legacy. He would be very proud.

Lucy Teixeira
Captain Sir Tom's daughter

Policy

Our voice as a campaigning organisation has never sounded louder than in 2020–21. We successfully lobbied with the Greener UK coalition to win a binding commitment to reverse nature loss in the Government’s new Environment Bill, while 20,000 Trust members blitzed ministers to demand proper safeguards for ancient woodland in an imminent shakeup of English planning law. Read our latest campaigns news.

Our landmark report on the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees was the most in depth dossier ever compiled on Britain’s native canopy. It makes grim reading, revealing that just 7% of our woods are in healthy condition, and birds like the pied flycatcher have slumped in number by 80% since 1970.

Health and wellbeing

The scientific evidence is clear: exposure to wild places alleviates stress, stabilises blood pressure and salves anxiety and depression. It has even been shown to boost anti-cancer cells and speed people’s recovery from surgery. And after a period when the restorative power of the outdoors never felt so vital, the Trust isn’t just talking the talk on this – we are pioneering revolutionary models that offer ‘nature on prescription’.

Led by Dartmoor GP Lucy Loveday, our Resilient Young Minds programme invites doctors to place young adults with mental health issues on outdoor programmes at the Trust’s Fingle Woods, taking in everything from firebuilding to photography and guided meditation. Full roll-out happened last spring, with 15 patients taking part, and they’ve reported improvements in their mood, confidence and sense of independence. Backed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, our Fingle team has run sessions for 600 vulnerable people in all. Meanwhile, our team on the Smithills Estate, in Greater Manchester, has developed a whole suite of activities for marginalised groups, including guided walks for people with dementia.

On my first day volunteering at Smithills, I had a massive feeling of freedom and relief. I looked down from the hill on all my anxieties, and knew that up there, I was safe. It was a great gift to find I could be helpful to someone.

Gael Kouam
Cameroonian refugee and Smithills volunteer

Restoration

The Woodland Trust is not just about trees, as we demonstrated last winter with our ambitious peatland restoration project on the Smithills Estate in Greater Manchester. A high and handsome complex of wooded becks and heather moor, Smithills made headlines three years ago when roughly half its hills – 100 hectares or so – were blackened by wildfires. But its fragile upland ecosystem has been dessicated for decades by drainage and overgrazing, and our £800,000 partnership with Moors for the Future is turning the tide.

Helicopters dropped in hundreds of tonnes of stone to create miniature dams, while 89,000 plugs of nutrient-rich sphagnum moss were planted by hand, many by volunteers. The aim: to stem the flow of water off the hills, benefitting scarce birds such as curlews and lapwings, but also bulwarking nearby Bolton from flooding. Scientists from Liverpool University have moved in to monitor the impact of our natural flood management work across the estate, so that lessons from Smithills can inform other schemes nationwide.

Meanwhile, some of England’s most venerable woods will be in better health thanks to the Trust’s plan to restore almost 1,000 hectares of ancient woodland damaged by non-native conifer plantations, in partnership with the National Trust. Kickstarted a year ago with £3.8 million from Defra’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the scheme will enhance 50 of the UK’s loveliest sanctuaries.

Covid-19

As the coronavirus crisis took hold, the Trust was far from immune – but the response of our staff, volunteers, members and funders proved inspirational. All our woods UK-wide remained free and open to visitors, offering a vital nature fix for everyone confined by lockdowns. That brought with it some challenges: for a while we had to ground our 50 woodland managers, and fires and fly-tipping scarred some of our most popular reserves – but no fewer than 166 volunteers signed up as relief wardens, becoming the eyes and ears of our estate.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all of them – and thanks too to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which granted us £262,000 to help make emergency repairs.

Not everyone could get outdoors, so the Trust also rolled out a suite of 18 online blogs packed with activities for children – they attracted 600,000 hits in all. We launched a webinar series, too, beaming the wonders of places like Devon’s Fingle Woods into homes, while the biggest success of all was our live-streamed osprey cam from Loch Arkaig. The antics of Aila, Louis and their trio of chicks drew 2.3 million virtual visits during summer 2020.

Our community planting events also fell victim to lockdown, but perhaps the most heartening footnote on the year was how the nation rallied to get trees in the ground. More than 6,000 schools and community groups made the effort to plant our free tree packs across the land – including the villagers of Crosby Ravensworth in Cumbria. It helped us to a record total of 1.15 million saplings by the end of 2020. And by summer 2021, the first fruit trees were rooting at our Covid memorial orchard in Derbyshire – an idea conceived by teenage members of the new youth forum steering our fledgling Young People’s Forest at Mead there.

Helping at the Young People’s Forest has been brilliant. We’ve planted trees, put in butterfly banks, and built pools for froglets. We hope to inspire loads more young people to feel part of this and pitch in their thoughts.

Sabaha Hussein
Forum member, Young People’s Forest at Mead

Planting

Given the privations of the pandemic, perhaps the Trust could be forgiven for missing one or two tree-planting targets in 2020–21. Yet we helped bed in more than two million saplings outside woods – in parks and gardens, on roadsides, on farmland – and had a hand in creating over 1,600 hectares of new tree cover in all.

One standout success story has been our £1.1 million Croft Woodlands project, which topped its five-year target by almost 50%, planting a million trees with more than 300 crofters across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. These young woods will shelter livestock, boost yields and improve soil quality, not to mention sheltering wildlife in a relatively tree-free part of the UK. The project has benefitted from a £170,000 gift in a Trust supporter’s will, and will now kick on for five more years – having doubled its planting goals.

Also north of the border, the Trust invested £200,000 to help villagers at Langholm in Dumfriesshire snap up 20 square kilometres of ancestral grouse moor for nature. It is southern Scotland’s largest community land buyout to date, and we’re part of the team forging the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve there: we hope to nurture 400,000 trees.

We are growing Scottish tea on our croft, and the Trust has helped us plant 8,000 trees – hazel for coppicing, fruit trees and cobnuts for harvest. We’ve seen a huge increase in biodiversity – the owls and hen harriers help keep down the voles, which love our saplings!

Mike Hyatt
Crofter, Isle of Lismore

Thank you!

Here are the organisations that supported the Trust’s work to the tune of £5,000 or more. We send sincere thanks to all.

Asendia UK Ltd
Avison Young
AXA UK Plc
Barclays Plc
Bell Fundraising Ltd
Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
BGL Group
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Boskalis Westminster Ltd
BrewDog Plc
Brother Film Co
Charities Advisory Trust
Delamere Dairy Ltd
Devon County Council
DFS Furniture
Dorset Cereals
Equitix
Eurostove Limited
Fleet Caravans Ltd
Golden Acre Foods
Hughes Insurance
IG Design Group UK
IKEA Ltd
Innocent Drinks
Joules Ltd
Kernow Coatings Ltd
Lakeland Ltd
Lazard Asset Management
Lloyds Banking Group
Marks & Spencer Plc
Moon Climbing Ltd
MRP Investment and Development Ltd
Nationwide Building Society
Next Plc
OVO Energy
Pear Tree Cleaning Ltd
Pet Family
Pets at Home
Players of People’s Postcode Lottery
Premier Paper Group
Principality Building Society
PUR Project
Sainsbury’s
Seedlip Ltd
Selfridges & Co
Shanly Homes Ltd
Shoosmiths LLP
Showcard Print Ltd
Simple Skincare
Sofidel UK Ltd
Sofology
Stagecoach Group
The Co-operative Bank
The Great British Card Company
The Guardian
TT International
Wellcome Trust Ltd
34SP.com Ltd

ANT – Fonden
B and J Lloyd Family Charitable Trust
Banister Charitable Trust
Bellingburn Trust
Butt family through the Calleva
Foundation
Constance Travis Charitable Trust
David Family Foundation
Elm Trust
Fieldrose Charitable Trust
Fort Foundation
G D Herbert Charitable Trust
Garfield Weston Foundation
Helen and Michael Brown Charitable Trust
Henocq Law Trust
Icthius Charitable Trust
Ingram Trust
John Armitage Charitable Trust
Lochlands Trust
Moto in the Community Trust
Mr T H N Allen Charitable Trust
National Arbor Day Foundation
Nebulus Trust
Northwick Trust
Oglesby Charitable Trust
Patrick Rowland Foundation
Peacock Charitable Trust
Peter Smith Charitable Trust for Nature
Revere Charitable Trust
River Farm Foundation
Scott (Eredine) Charitable Trust
ShareGift
Skelton Trust
Spear Charitable Trust
Steel Charitable Trust
Susan H. Guy’s Charitable Trust
Tanner Trust
The Charity Service
Vernet-Trump Charitable Trust

Biffa Award
Enovert Community Trust
Groundwork NI as administrator for
Aughrim Landfill Tax Credits
The Veolia Environmental Trust
Viridor Credits Environmental Company

Defra
Department of Agriculture, Environment
and Rural Affairs
Environment Agency
European Commission LIFE
Forestry Commission
Green Recovery Challenge Fund: National
Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with
Natural England and the Environment
Agency on behalf of Defra
Greater London Authority
Ministry of Housing, Communities and
Local Government
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Natural England
Natural Resources Wales – Cyfoeth
Naturiol Cymru
NatureScot
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Pears #iwill Fund – Pears Foundation;
National Lottery Community Fund
and Department for Digital, Culture,
Media & Sport
Pears Family Charitable Foundation
People’s Trust for Endangered Species
Plantlife International
Point and Sandwick Trust
Rural Payment Agencies
Salford City Council
Scottish Forestry
Scottish Government Rural Payments and
Inspections Directorate
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council
The James Hutton Institute
Welsh Assembly Government Rural
Payments/Cronfa Datblygu Gwledig
Llywodraeth Cymru

Number crunch

Despite choppy waters, we trumped our income target for the 17 months to May 2021 by £7.5 million. Here’s how we raised it – and invested it for nature.

Looking ahead to 2022

Since our financial year ended last May, we've laid the ground for a new ten-year plan to transform the UK treescape. Here's a taste of what's taking root.

Rallying the nation

As 2022 dawns, the Trust is determined to take a lead in tackling the twin crises that define our age – wildlife extinction and climate change. You may already have clocked our high profile TV ads for the Big Climate Fightback, a campaign to rally the nation to plant a tree, and you can do your bit by snapping up a sapling for your garden from our online shop. Or why not sign up now for free trees for your community group or school – we will have 1.7 million saplings available for the 2022–23 season.

Meanwhile, a second major planting drive is underway, to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The Trust is teaming up with landowners and councils to dig in new woods of 70 acres each to mark Her Majesty’s seven decades of service, and 130,000 trees have already gone out in our free tree packs, too. It’s all part of our contribution to the Queen’s Green Canopy project.

Securing wildlife

In 2020–21 we notched up the first three-and-a-half million trees in the Northern Forest, a 25-year drive to girdle a wide swathe of the north of England in life-giving new woods. Now three years into its span, the forest is our weightiest woodland creation project ever, and 2022 sees it go super-sized, thanks to a £13.8 million investment from the Government’s Nature For Climate Fund. It will enable the Trust and our four community forest partners to scale up our planting in towns and countryside all the way from Liverpool to Hull.

We are also starting work on fashioning our single biggest new wildlife haven in the region: Snaizeholme in the Yorkshire Dales, acquired last summer with the help of £750,000 donated by our members and supporters. Here we’ll plant 250,000 trees to transform an entire valley, forging fresh habitat for imperilled species, including red squirrels, black grouse and white-clawed crayfish.

Going greener

The Trust’s abiding mantra these days is “the right tree in the right place” – and over the last year or two we’ve set the pace on conservation best practice. We have drawn on five decades of experience to publish gold-standard guides on both native woodland creation and ancient woodland restoration, as well as designing training courses to spread that wisdom among foresters far and near.

The hot news for 2022 is our trailblazing pledge on eco-friendly planting: starting now, we’ll deploy no more single-use plastic tree guards on our land. The commitment puts us at the forefront of the movement to eradicate plastic from woodland schemes UK-wide, and we are breaking ground too by committing over £20,000 to research on the topic – trialling alternative tree shelters in our woods, and analysing their ‘cradle-to-grave’ environmental credentials with help from University College London.

Annual reviews from previous years

Annual review 2019 (PDF, 3.6MB)

Annual review 2018 (PDF, 5MB)

Annual review 2017 (PDF, 1.2MB)

Annual review 2016 (PDF, 1.5MB)

Journal

Report and accounts 2020-21

PDF  (4.07 MB)

Produced annually, our report and accounts summarises our achievements, fundraising activity and expenditure over the 17-month period between January 2020 and May 2021. It also outlines our governance, reports back on our environmental impact, and lays out our ambitions for the coming months.

Download the report and accounts