This election will be era-defining, a tipping point for our future on Earth. We are almost halfway through the crucial so-called ‘decade of delivery’, yet every light on the dashboard is flashing red. Now and in the years to come, politicians and political parties will be judged by the electorate on whether their plans meet the scale of the challenge, and the opportunity, in front of us. Action to protect, restore and expand our native woods and trees is at the heart of the change we need.

Our climate is changing and putting us in peril. Extreme summer heat, winter floods, frequent droughts and more intense storms threaten every community across the country. Meanwhile, nature is in crisis and the UK is one of the worst countries in the world for nature loss. In 2020 the UK had met only three of 10 global targets for nature recovery.

A healthy natural environment is a pre-condition of a healthy economy and society. The evidence is overwhelming and this should be the starting point for manifesto authors. Furthermore, woods and trees have a unique role to play in tackling some of the great challenges of our age, making them an indispensable tool to policy makers. Securing their benefits is not only the right thing to do morally, it will enable efficient value for money policy delivery across all of government. In our towns, cities and countryside, protecting our ancient ‘living legends’, restoring our native woods and growing new woodland and trees will make healthier and more beautiful places to live. It will help protect both communities and the economy from extreme weather, support nature recovery and adaptation to a changing climate, and store large quantities of carbon essential to tackling climate change.

But we are not taking the action needed to realise these benefits and this undermines any claims to global leadership. 

Too many of our irreplaceable ancient trees and woods are inadequately protected from development and other pressures. We continue to buy trees from abroad rather than growing our own, missing an economic opportunity and risking further imports of potentially devastating pests and diseases. A cliff edge in financial support for trees and woods is fast approaching as current funding programmes in England run down. The need for effective management of woods and trees is largely ignored, leaving only 7% of native woods in good condition for nature, while the huge Public Forest Estate needs urgent reform to respond to the climate and nature crises we face. 

We urgently need targeted investment and policy initiatives that boost nature’s recovery and tackle climate change. We must demonstrate international leadership through domestic action. 

Our four priorities for manifestos for the next General Election

  • Towns and cities with lots of trees are happier, healthier and more resilient places to live. Trees bring beauty, wildlife and a range of essential benefits including cleaner air and shade that can lower summer temperatures by 12 degrees.
  • But access to trees is hugely unequal. Canopy cover ranges from 45% in Farnham, Surrey, to 3% in Fleetwood, Lancashire. At district level, Surrey Heath boasts canopy cover of 36% while South Holland in Lincolnshire has only 2.2%.
  • While the use of local green space has grown steadily over the last decade, the percentage of people who live near woods where they are free to walk is decreasing. 
  • Projects like the Northern Forest are pointing the way to a better future with 300,000 households – equivalent to the size of Leeds – now benefiting from access to woodland that didn’t exist previously. 
  • The Woodland Trust’s tree equity project, in conjunction with American Forests and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, is a new way to measure the ecosystem services of urban trees and woods and people’s ability to access them across thousands of neighbourhoods. This approach should be used to understand and protect trees as a vital resource, and to target investment so that everyone can enjoy the multiple benefits of trees regardless of background.

We need:

  • a new long-term target to increase native tree canopy cover in England to 16%, supported by a minimum canopy cover requirement of 30% for new development. 
  • a £100 million Woods for People Fund to buy land and create woodland that’s accessible, publicly owned and wildlife-rich where this is currently lacking.
  • targeted funding to help local authorities produce and update their tree strategies and ensure they have the staff and skills to plant and manage trees. 
  • investment in commercial, local authority and community tree nurseries to rapidly expand the supply of UK and Ireland sourced and grown trees. This will support objectives for conservation and the urban environment, mitigate the risk of introducing pests and diseases, and create viable green jobs.
  • With less than half the woodland cover of countries such as France and Germany, we urgently need more trees in our landscapes. Government investment over the last five years has begun to reap rewards, with more landowners choosing to plant trees for climate and nature, but this positive trend is now in jeopardy with great uncertainty around future funding support. 
  • With no ring-fenced support for trees and woods going forward, boom-and-bust is a real risk. Hard-won momentum in tree planting could be lost while vital issues such as the care and management of existing trees continue to be marginalised and underfunded. 

We need long term funding commitments to help land managers secure the benefits of woods and trees for climate, nature and people. This should include:  

  • a five year, £1bn nature recovery funding package to support woodland resilience, restoration, management, access and skills. A ring-fenced fund of £325m a year should support woodland creation, from small projects to landscape scale schemes like the Northern Forest, which is planting 50 million trees in and around Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull.
  • spatial targeting of Environmental Land Management payments to help land managers improve the condition of our woods and trees and support the recovery of woodland wildlife, as directed by Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
  • private finance support being properly regulated and well directed to maximise outcomes for nature and people without dialling down protection. 
  • Forestry Commission sites in England consist of over 200,000 hectares of land – three times the combined size of Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle. 
  • Split across 1,500 sites and managed by Forestry England, the Public Forest Estate has enormous potential to offer public access, support nature, and help the country mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as providing an important source of timber. 
  • But despite some good practice, the legal purpose of the nation’s forests and the work of Forestry Commission England are still closely tied to legislation written more than 100 years ago – long before today’s pressing threats to nature and climate.

We need:

  • a new Forestry Act for the 21st century. This will place a duty on Government’s forestry bodies to significantly enhance the public goods and benefits trees can provide to society, including recovering nature, tackling climate change and providing access for all, alongside the historic existing duty to promote timber. 
  • a ringfenced budget for Forestry England to restore the almost 100,000 hectares of rare wildlife habitats, such as ancient woodland, that are currently damaged by plantation forestry.  
  • new legislation and funding to protect the nation’s forests and their irreplaceable value for current and future generations. 
  • This country is blessed with an extraordinary array of ancient and veteran trees. Utterly irreplaceable, our living legends define the forests, landscapes, parks and streets they sit within. This places us in a unique position to demonstrate global leadership.
  • Ancient woodland covers less than 3% of the UK. It’s an irreplaceable habitat of huge value to native wildlife and as a carbon store. Yet many ancient and veteran trees and ancient woodlands are under threat from factors including development pressure, plantation forestry, changing climate, disease and poor management. Combined, these threats pose an existential risk.
  • Measures are urgently needed to protect our living legends for generations to come.

We need:

  • a new law to legally protect our oldest and most important trees and prevent further loss of the remaining fragments of ancient woodland (pre-1600) by strengthening planning policy. 
  • a new category of ‘long-established woodland’ to protect other important woods (those in situ since 1840) through the planning system.
  • to update the Tree Preservation Order system so it gives meaningful and consistent protection, especially to trees in urban environments.
  • a £250 million Ancient Woodland Restoration Fund to kick-start the restoration of ancient woodlands being damaged by timber plantations.
Contact us

For more details about our manifesto asks, please contact governmentaffairs@woodlandtrust.org.uk.