State of the UK's Woods and Trees 2021

Credit: Nick Turner / naturepl.com
Credit: Nick Turner / naturepl.com

State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 is the first report of its kind laying out the facts and trends on the current state of the UK's native woods and trees.

At a time when the demand for new woods and trees is escalating, our existing woods and trees are facing great pressure.

A good understanding of their current state will enable us all to realise their vital role in tackling climate change, improving our wellbeing, and recovering nature.

From the wealth of data presented in this inaugural report, here is a summary of our key findings, the facts behind the story, and priority actions.

At a glance - key findings

Our analysis has identified four significant findings about the state of woods and trees.

1. Woodland cover is gradually increasing, but woodland wildlife is decreasing

The trends for the UKs woods and trees are concerning. The UK’s woodland cover has more than doubled in the last 100 years, but much of this is non-native trees. Existing native woodlands are isolated, in poor ecological condition and there has been a decline in woodland wildlife.

2. Woods and trees are vital for a healthy, happy society

They lock up carbon to fight climate change, improve our health, wellbeing and education, reduce pollution and flooding, and support people, wildlife and livestock.

3. Woods and trees are subject to a barrage of coinciding threats

Threats range from direct woodland loss to more insidious influences from climate impacts, imported diseases, invasive plants, mammal browsing and air pollutants.

4. Not nearly enough is being done

The report is a loud and clear warning sign that more needs to be done to protect and expand our woods and trees. We urgently need to scale up the many inspiring initiatives to create native woods, put more individual trees back in the landscape, and restore damaged woods.
We must work together to enable native woods and trees to become a source of widespread nature recovery and improve people's lives.

Priority actions

As a result of these findings, in order to help the UK’s woods, trees, wildlife and people, we recommend the following priority actions.

Expand woodland tree cover

We need to at least quadruple the current rate of woodland creation and increase the proportion of UK-grown native species to help tackle the effects of climate change and give nature a fighting chance of recovery.

Enhance and protect existing woods and trees

Enable native woods and trees to become a source of widespread nature recovery and improve people’s lives.

Improve the evidence

Inventories of ancient woods and trees need to be frequently undertaken as well as regular assessment of important wildlife sites. Data gaps need filling and there needs to be systematic woodland and tree monitoring. 

Invest in the future

Time, money, people and innovation are needed to take on the challenge and create opportunities for woods and trees.

What is being done for woods and trees?

Tree cover in the UK is increasing, but nowhere near fast enough, particularly native tree cover.

Credit: Neil Ingram / WTML

UK and Ireland sourced and grown

The UK and Ireland Sourced and Grown (UKISG) assurance standard will have produced 27 million home-grown trees between 2014 and 2024, avoiding importing new pests and diseases on seeds or saplings from abroad. However, UK tree nurseries cannot currently supply enough UKISG native trees to meet demand.

Credit: Stuart Block / Alamy Stock Photo

Increase tree cover on farmland

Farmland presents a huge opportunity to increase canopy cover. It is estimated that currently, only 3.3% of the 72% of the UK’s land area that is agricultural is under agroforestry.

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Ecological connectivity

Expansion of woodlands and trees must be targeted to improve ecological connectivity, which requires measuring and monitoring at a landscape scale.

Credit: Robert Read / WTML

Restore ancient woodland

Progress with restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites has been slow and huge areas of ancient woodland remain in a critical or threatened condition. 

What you can do

We have no time to lose. State of the UK's Woods and Trees 2021 provides clear evidence that there is an urgent need to act now in all corners of the UK.