How many trees are there in your local area? How many is ‘enough’? Everyone should be able to experience trees and their benefits regardless of where they live – this is known as 'tree equity' – and new Government policy could address this.

Globally, work on this is rapidly evolving. In the US, the conservation organisation American Forests has developed a way to assess cities for their levels of tree equity to help focus investment on urban trees - something we are investigating here in the UK. With vast differences in tree cover not only between our towns and cities but within them too, government policies and tree targets must be ambitious and fair for all residents. Join us in calling on Government to do more to give all of us the access to trees and nature we need.

Quick fact

New research into public perceptions of urban trees highlighted the need for equity in planning tree cover into areas with fewer street trees, woodlands and green spaces.

Government policy to tackle inequality

Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper, published in February 2022, sets out ambitions to reduce gaps between England's lowest and highest performing areas, including:

  • improving people’s quality of life
  • boosting people’s pride and satisfaction in where they live.

Trees and nature are currently at the fringes of the levelling up plans. That must change. Most people in the UK live in urban areas, so investing in urban trees - and people to look after them - is key to achieving levelling up goals.

The Levelling Up White Paper on the environment

“Ensuring natural beauty is accessible to all will be central to our planning system, with improved Green Belts around towns and cities, supported by Local Nature Recovery Strategies reflected in plan making, and woodland creation supported across the UK.”

Why is access to trees and nature so important?

Street by street, trees bring beauty, wildlife and a range of essential benefits into urban areas. They clean our air, shade our pavements, improve our health and wellbeing and even increase property values. But not everyone has trees close to home.

The numbers

The UK’s overall woodland cover is low compared to mainland Europe, partly due to our high population density and long history of settlement. Our tree cover has increased over the last century, but we still have a long way to go.

woodland cover in the UK
woodland cover in France
woodland cover in Spain
What is canopy cover?

When viewed from above, tree canopy cover is the layer of leaves, branches, and tree stems that cover the ground.

Scientists at Forest Research have measured the average tree canopy cover across 283 towns and cities in England, summarised in our State of Woods and Trees report. Ranging from 3% in Fleetwood, Lancashire to 45% in Farnham, Surrey, the average works out at just 16%. Each ward can vary too - in London, tree cover ranges from 58% in leafy Hampstead to 2.4% in City of London.

UK council wards have less than 20% tree cover

We need urgent action

We are facing a public health and environmental crisis that demands a transformational response: climate change.

Around three quarters of local authorities have declared climate emergencies and many are developing plans to increase tree cover as part of their response. This is much-needed, but plans must spread the benefits of trees fairly across urban areas, planting the right trees in the right places and consulting with local communities. They must target tree planting in areas of low tree cover and invest in the care of existing trees, particularly older and larger trees with huge shady canopies. 

Plans must also take into account potential consequences like increases to land and property values. This can lead to the subsequent displacement of low-income, long-term residents – so-called ‘green gentrification’. We need early, well-considered public policy interventions to ensure tree equity is realised in a way that truly benefits everyone.

There are parallels with the way Victorian planners used trees to tackle urban pollution and deprivation following the Industrial Revolution. Two hundred years ago, many urban areas were left devoid of green spaces and trees and we are facing a similar challenge. We need to make our towns and cities green again. 

What are we doing?

We’re helping a number of local authorities through our Emergency Tree Fund, from helping to map and set targets for urban tree cover to supporting community groups with tree planting in deprived areas. We’re also working with Forest Research and other partners to complete the UK’s first map of urban tree cover.

We help to protect trees in developments and encourage the planting of more. As outlined in our Emergency Tree Plan for local and national government, we encourage new developments to incorporate at least 30%  tree canopy cover as a way to ensure residents have the benefits of living with trees.

To look at how the idea of tree equity could work in the UK, we’ve begun work with non-profit conservation organisation American Forests and other organisations. In the United States, American Forests has developed a system to assess urban tree equity which combines satellite data on tree canopy cover with other information, for example on population density and surface temperature. This is used to generate tree equity scores for neighbourhoods and even entire cities. City authorities can then use this information to target investment in tree planting and maintenance in a way that ensures the benefits are shared fairly among all urban residents.

Get involved

The positive benefits of living with urban trees are well understood. It’s time to translate that into effective planning and public health policy that considers all residents’ needs and makes sure councils have the resources to deliver these plans.

You can help improve tree equity and give more people access to trees and nature by:

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