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 woods play an essential role in capturing and storing carbon. Not only do trees and woods store carbon, the right tree in the right place can also help fight the effects of a changing climate. Trees help reduce the effects of flooding during extreme rainfall events and can reduce urban temperatures during more frequent severe heatwaves.


Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably connected: climate change contributes to biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss makes climate change and its effects worse. Native trees and woods 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.


Trees planted in the right places can help improve urban air quality by forming a protective barrier between people and pollutants. Trees remove some pollution from the air by catching tiny particles on their leaves. Along with improving air quality, green spaces can help to make us physically healthier and improve our mental wellbeing. Woods and trees benefit our mental wellbeing, helping alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.

What can councillors do for trees and woods?

1. Plant more trees

Northern Ireland is one of the least wooded regions in Europe with less than 9% woodland cover. This is lower than the Republic of Ireland (11%), the UK (13%) and European Union (38%). The Climate Change Committee has advised that in order to meet Northern Ireland’s target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, woodland creation will need to increase from 226 hectares per year over the last decade to 2,500 hectares per year by 2035.

As well as being the least wooded region in the UK and Ireland, access to woods and trees is not equally distributed. Trees are critical infrastructure that every person in every community deserves.

Local councillors can make this happen by:

  • planting more trees. Setting targets and making land available for planting trees across their council area will contribute to achieving Northern Ireland’s net zero target and ensure that the benefits provided by trees are enjoyed by more people.
  • supporting locally sourced and grown trees. Establishing or supporting local tree nurseries will create local green jobs and reduce the risk of introducing pests and diseases.

2. Protect the trees we already have

Trees are living legends, pieces of history, our shared heritage. They've witnessed centuries of change and been part of our landscape for generations. They're also vital havens for wildlife and important carbon stores. But our oldest and most valuable trees are also our most vulnerable.

People care about the trees in their local community, this has been demonstrated through local campaigns to save trees across Northern Ireland. Local communities regularly contact the Woodland Trust for help when trees are under threat, but often there is little that can be done due to inadequate legal protections for woods and trees.

Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) are one of the only legal tools to protect important trees and woods. Local councils have powers to make and enforce TPOs in the interest of ‘amenity, when it is expedient to do so’. These orders are too limited in their scope as they do not recognise the wide range of benefits provided by trees and they are often too little too late.

Local councillors can make this happen by:

  • making effective use of Tree Preservation Orders, ensuring TPOs are up to date, that information on TPOs is easily accessible to the public and that they are fully enforced. This will help to protect trees that are important to local communities.
  • identifying and recording ancient and veteran trees. Using the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory to identify where ancient and veteran trees are takes us one step closer to giving them the care and protection they need.
  • Supporting new legislation for tree protection. Provide support for stronger legislation that will:
    • define, protect and support Trees of Special Interest;
    • strengthen TPOs;
    • provide greater protection for trees from statutory undertakers carrying out works under permitted development rights.

3. Look after our ancient woodland

As well as being one of the least wooded regions in Europe, ancient woodland makes up just 0.04% of the landscape. Centuries old, this irreplaceable habitat has developed special communities of plants, insects and animals not found elsewhere. Around 13% of Northern Ireland’s ancient and long established woodland has been cleared since the 1960s.

Our most special woodland habitats are legally designated as protected conservation sites. However, just 1% of woodland Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland is in favourable condition. The main reason for this is due to alien and problematic species, such as rhododendron, which alters the natural woodland composition and threatens its life cycle.

Local councillors can make this happen by:

  • standing up for ancient woodland. Develop council policies and strategies, and use the planning system to protect and restore ancient woodland.
  • bringing council-owned woodland under positive management. Develop and implement management plans for all council owned woodland sites to contribute to the political commitment to protect 30% of Northern Ireland’s land and sea for nature by 2030.

For more information

Contact Paul Armstrong, Public Affairs Manager - Northern Ireland at