The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives and wellbeing. At the same time we are facing two equally critical issues: climate change and biodiversity loss. Native trees and woodland ecosystems offer solutions to address these challenges.

How trees and woods deliver for climate, nature and people


It is vital that all parts of the economy and society achieve urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Where emissions are unavoidable, trees and woodland ecosystems are essential for capturing carbon. Not only do trees and woodland soils store carbon, the right tree in the right place can also deliver wider benefits such as reducing the risk of flooding, improving air quality, supporting wildlife and providing spaces for people to enjoy.


Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably connected, with climate change contributing to biodiversity loss and biodiversity loss making climate change and its effects worse. Native trees and woodlands support biodiversity as they provide a home for a wide variety of plants and wildlife, with ancient woodland (woodland in existence since the 1600s) supporting more threatened species than any other land-based habitat in Northern Ireland.


Access to green spaces improves physical health, supports mental wellbeing and increases quality of life. Green exercise, such as walking and cycling, not only improves physical fitness but it can also improve self-esteem and mood, reduce stress and anxiety disorders and help ease depression. While a variety of accessible green space is important, woodland delivers a wide range of benefits, creates a balance between the built and natural environment, costs little to maintain and can welcome large numbers of visitors.

Our priorities 

It is essential that the Government in Northern Ireland prioritises native trees and woodland in order to address the climate and nature emergencies and deliver a sustainable recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic.

Our manifesto sets out how we can work together to protect and restore Northern Ireland’s ancient and long-established woodlands and plant more native trees to combat climate change, enable nature to thrive and provide places for everyone to enjoy.

Our top priorities for the next Government in Northern Ireland:

Northern Ireland is one of the least wooded regions in Europe with just 9% woodland cover. This is lower than the Republic of Ireland (11%), the UK (13%) and European Union (38%).

If we are to maximise the benefits of trees to address the climate and nature emergencies, the next Government in Northern Ireland must support the planting of more native trees and woods by:

  • Ensuring that tree planting supports nature’s recovery as well as tackling the climate crisis.
  • Delivering and implementing a Climate Change Act for Northern Ireland that sets a binding target for net zero emissions and supports natures recovery.
  • Introducing a Land Use Strategy that promotes nature-based solutions to address climate change biodiversity loss.
  • Introducing a Tree Strategy for Northern Ireland that includes ambitious targets for native woodland creation.
  • Increasing funding for forestry grants that deliver both nature and climate objectives.
  • Recognising and investing in the wider benefits of trees as green infrastructure to reduce flood risk, provide noise barriers and improve air quality.
  • Encouraging all councils in Northern Ireland to adopt a tree strategy or equivalent (if they do not currently have one), map their tree canopy cover and set ambitious tree planting targets.

We need to plant more trees to capture more carbon, but new trees take many years to grow. The best carbon stores are the mature trees we already have; they provide the greatest benefit for wildlife and are part of our cultural and natural heritage.

It is vital that the next government in Northern Ireland does more to protect and restore our existing trees and woodland ecosystems by:

  • Restoring all ancient and long-established woodland in Northern Ireland.
  • Increasing funding for grants to support ancient woodland restoration.
  • Supporting native tree planting that buffers and extends our precious and irreplaceable ancient woodlands.
  • Investing in mapping of ancient woods and veteran trees to support better land-use and planning policy.
  • Updating planning policy to provide ancient woodland, veteran trees and other irreplaceable habitats with the same level of protection enjoyed by built heritage.
  • Establishing an independent Environmental Protection Agency in Northern Ireland to oversee and enforce all relevant environmental legislation.

With trees playing a key role in addressing the climate and nature emergencies, the demand for trees in Northern Ireland is growing. However, due to the limited capacity of local growers, trees are often sourced from overseas. Importing trees can inadvertently introduce new pests and diseases that can have a devastating impact on our native trees and woods. Planting locally sourced and grown trees is the most effective way to mitigate against this, while supporting green jobs.

If we are to plant more trees and protect against pests and diseases we need the next government of Northern Ireland to support locally sourced and grown trees by:

  • Offering financial support to enable a rapid expansion of Northern Ireland’s nurseries to supply locally sourced and grown trees.
  • Mandating that any publicly funded native tree planting is carried out using locally sourced and grown trees.
  • Working within the North South Ministerial Council to develop common policies and approaches to strengthen biosecurity measures, and ensuring these measures are implemented in Northern Ireland.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have demonstrated people’s need to

use the outdoors and increased demand requires greater provision of accessible green spaces across Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland has the lowest provision of woodland access across the UK.

In order to benefit from the health, social, and economic benefits of trees and woods, we need the next Government of Northern Ireland to improve access to trees and woods by:

  • Ensuring trees are planted close to where people live and where most benefit would be delivered to communities.
  • Increasing tree cover along roads and walking and cycling routes to make them more attractive, safer and healthier and better for wildlife.
  • Funding landowners to implement and maintain public access on their land, including changes to the current Agri-Environment Scheme where Single Farm Payment subsidies are currently lost for areas taken out of grazing.
  • Mandating that all public bodies to review their current land holdings and transfer more of this to create new publicly accessible woodland or enhance access to existing woodland.
  • Making greater use of Community Asset Transfer to bring public land into community ownership.
  • Investing in the next generation by creating formal and informal opportunities for children and young people to come into contact with nature.

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