Guide for the Woodland Opportunity Map

Friends of the Earth, supported by the mapping consultancy Terra Sulis and players of People’s Postcode Lottery, has launched the first ever map and league table of existing and opportunity woodland in every local authority in England. This is a guide to help you make the most of our Woodland Opportunity Map in your area.

01 Sep 2021

Key findings of our Woodland Opportunity Map

The Woodland Opportunity Map and report reveals that it would be possible to almost double woodland cover in England from its current level of 10% without encroaching on high-value arable farmland, Priority Habitats, peat bogs or protected nature sites.

Here are some of the highlights of the research:

  • In 34 local authority areas, there's the potential to at least triple woodland cover.
  • In 63 local authority areas, there's the potential to at least double woodland cover.
  • In 112 local authority areas, there's the potential to increase woodland cover by at least 50%.
  • In 160 local authority areas, there's the potential to increase woodland cover by at least 25%.

The Woodland Opportunity Map only measures woodland. It doesn't identify the potential of trees in urban areas – such as street trees, public parks and gardens – due to data limitations, therefore don’t worry if "future opportunity" in your area is low. Including these would highlight significantly more opportunities to grow trees in England. Several urban councils, including Blackpool, Bristol, Hackney, Leeds and Wigan, have committed to double tree cover within their local authority areas. Also, some high value agricultural land that is not recorded as opportunity woodland could incorporate trees, eg through agroforestry.

For land that has been classified as opportunity woodland, further research and consultation is required to assess its suitability for woodland creation, and importantly, we need to work in cooperation with the custodians of the land who manage it and know it well. Changes to how land is used to tackle the climate and nature crises should be part of a just transition where farmers and rural communities are key stakeholders in identifying opportunities, designing and implementing solutions, and are fairly rewarded for converting land to woodlands or integrating trees on their farms.

Share the map with local media

If there's significant opportunity woodland in your local authority area, why not share the map with your local newspaper and other media outlets to spread the message about what can be done locally to grow more trees?

We drafted a template press release which you can download, edit and send to local newspapers. Please feel free to change it and add information about your area. For more information, check out our guide for writing press releases.

You can also send the press release to local TV and radio stations. If you're invited for an interview, do take a look at our guide for giving media interviews.

Share the map on social media

Start a public conversation by sharing the Woodland Opportunity Map on social media. You can use the hashtag #WoodlandOpportunity to help us all see what's being said.

Here’s an example of a tweet you could write:

This #WoodlandOpportunity map shows we could increase woodland cover in [LOCAL AUTHORITY NAME] from [X%] to [X%]. @[COUNCILLOR NAME] can you support setting an ambitious local tree cover target? https://takeclimateaction.uk/woodland-opportunity-mapping-england

Share the map with local landowners and land managers

Much of the opportunity woodland identified is low-grade farmland. However, increasing tree cover on this land could be a very sensitive subject for some farmers, who may have been working the land for a long time and for whom farming is a culture and way of life. Their position as custodians of the land needs to be respected and understood, and farmers must be included and consulted when communities devise locally appropriate solutions to increasing tree cover.

Adding more trees to a landscape doesn’t necessarily mean woodland. Plenty of other options exist for trees on farms, often referred to as "Trees outside of Woodlands" (ToW):

  • Green growth: wider or taller hedgerows, copses, shelter belts or wood pasture.
  • Riparian planning: Planting trees along water courses. This can prevent soil erosion and improve water quality.
  • Agroforestry: Planting trees within fields alongside crops or livestock. Land remains for food production, and increase overall productivity through production of fruit, nuts, timber, or carbon storage.

Build allies in the farming community and connect with local farmers by:

  • Joining Nature Friendly Farming Network, welcomes public supporters.
  • Going to your local farmer’s market and introducing yourself – you may find local farmers who are willing to be tree champions and share their experiences or skills with other farmers.
  • Contacting your local authority and asking whether they own any farms. They may be able to work with their tenant farmers to see how tree cover can be increased. This helps councils meet their carbon cutting targets on their own land.

Share the map with your councillors and MP

If you live in an area with significant opportunity for more woodland, share the map with your local councillors.

The most important person to contact in your local council is the person responsible for tree policy. This is usually the Environment Cabinet Member or Committee Chair. You may already be in touch with them about the Climate Action Plan for councils. If not, we recommend emailing your local councillors to ask them who is responsible for tree policy. Find the contact details for your local councillors on gov.uk by entering your postcode.

Doubling tree cover across the local authority area is one of the 50 actions that councils can take to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies. At least 12 councils have already made commitments to double tree cover and this map could help you secure this commitment from your council!

Here are some key messages you could share with your councillors:

  • Highlight existing and opportunity woodland cover in your local authority area.
  • Share a link to the Woodland Opportunity Map and league table, which is below the map.
  • Explain that the Woodland Opportunity Map does not include trees in urban areas, such as public parks and pavements, therefore it underestimates the potential for new trees in towns and cities.
  • If the council has not set a long-term tree cover target for the local authority area, why not ask them to create one? The tree cover target could include woodlands, agroforestry and urban trees.
  • Does the council own land as part of its estate? If so it could encourage its tenant farmers to grow more trees and support agroforestry.

You could also share the findings of the Woodland Opportunity Map with your local MP. To find contact details for your MP, check out the UK parliament find your MPs tool.

Feedback

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the woodland mapping tool. Please take a minute to fill in our quick survey: https://friendsoftheearth.typeform.com/to/LSj1FRxe

Notes on methodology

It's important to note that because of limitations in official data, the Woodland Opportunity Map has not comprehensively excluded all potentially sensitive sites. For example, the Government’s maps of species-rich grassland are incomplete, and more research needs to be carried out about the locations of these biodiverse meadows. Before starting a woodland creation program, it's vital to undertake an ecological survey at a local level. Important archaeological sites also need to be excluded, which may need to be done on a case-by-case basis.

The Woodland Opportunity Map uses national datasets to assess potential woodland cover. To assess the suitability of local sites for woodland creation, this data should be supplemented with local datasets, including Local Wildlife Sites, County Wildlife Sites and Local Environmental Records Centres data on priority habitats.

The data for existing woodland is sourced from the Forestry Commission’s National Forest Inventory, the most comprehensive survey of woodlands in England. This covers any woodland in Great Britain of at least 0.5 hectares in area with a minimum width of 20m, and that have at least 20% tree canopy cover.

To calculate opportunity woodland, the study excluded:

  • Good quality farmland (grades 1 – 3a).
  • Priority habitats.
  • Upland peat bogs.
  • Protected areas designated for the conservation of habitats and species (such as SSSIs).
  • Urban areas, non-agricultural land and water bodies.
  • Pasture land that hasn't been ploughed for a number of years because some of these might be valuable for more diverse plant life.
  • Existing woodland.

Please note, as stated in our methodology section, because of limitations in official data, the Woodland Opportunity Map hasn't comprehensively excluded all potentially sensitive sites. Before starting a woodland creation program, it's vital to undertake an ecological survey at a local level.

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