Woodland opportunity mapping

Where could we create woodland in England?

Many of England’s ancient woodlands, forests, trees and hedgerows have been destroyed over the past few hundred years. Just 10% of England is covered in woodland, compared to an EU average of 38%.

In recent times, community groups like Darlington Friends of the Earth and Oxford Climate Action have fought to protect and expand our woodland. But we recognise that it’s hard to find land for more trees if you’re not armed with data and a feasible plan.

Friends of the Earth has teamed up with mapping expert Tim Richards to draw up an "opportunity map" of areas in England that may be suitable for creating woodlands.

In order to preserve peat bogs and protected nature sites, the map excludes many areas (see exclusions below). We also want to protect areas that are more valuable for growing food crops, so we've screened out high-quality arable agricultural land. Use the woodland mapping tool to work with your council on creating woodlands.

The areas shaded above show opportunity areas for creating new woodland. Whether they’re converted to woodland or not is something that should be decided locally. We need to bring local stakeholders together to identify opportunities, and devise locally appropriate tree-growing options.

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

And before any tree planting or woodland creation happens, it’s vital to carry out an ecological survey to ensure rare wildlife is not harmed. It’s also important to consider whether the land in question is suitable for natural regeneration – where trees can re-seed without the need for planting – or whether some planting is needed, to provide a local seed source.

We'd love to hear how you're using this resource and any issues you've spotted with the data set.

Top opportunity areas for new woodland creation

We've ranked all local authorities areas according to the extent of woodland creation opportunity (in hectares).
The table also displays the percentage of each local authority area's land that is identified as woodland opportunity, as well as existing woodland cover (the percentage of the local authority area that is already covered in woodlands).
1. Northumberland
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
77
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
15%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
18%
2. Cornwall
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
73
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
21%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
9%
3. Shropshire
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
47
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
15%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
9%
4. Eden District
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
43
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
20%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
6%
5. South Lakeland District
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
39
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
26%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
14%
6. Craven District
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
39
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
33%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
5%
7. County Durham
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
38
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
17%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
9%
8. North Devon District
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
35
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
32%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
10%
9. Dorset
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
35
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
14%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
12%
10. Derbyshire Dales District
Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
33
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
42%
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
10%
Rank Local authority Woodland opportunity
(1000 hectares)
Woodland opportunity
(proportion of area)
Existing woodland cover
(proportion of area)
1 Northumberland 77 15% 18%
2 Cornwall 73 21% 9%
3 Shropshire 47 15% 9%
4 Eden District 43 20% 6%
5 South Lakeland District 39 26% 14%
6 Craven District 39 33% 5%
7 County Durham 38 17% 9%
8 North Devon District 35 32% 10%
9 Dorset 35 14% 12%
10 Derbyshire Dales District 33 42% 10%

To find out about your local authority area, download the full data set

Three key ingredients

Creating new woodlands is only one part of the puzzle. Our urban areas can have benefit from many more street trees. And there are so many ways to integrate trees into farms – such as finding unused corners of fields and underproductive areas, or riparian planting along water courses to prevent soil erosion.

Agroforestry is another important option that has huge potential to grow more trees in productive farmland and covers a range of approaches – from growing thicker, taller hedgerows, to planting shelter belts, growing trees amongst livestock or arable crops, and woodland grazing.

With more woodland, street trees and agroforestry, we’re confident that England could double tree cover. Will you and your group help achieve this goal?

A living wall of plants at Birmingham New Street station Living wall at Birmingham New Street station Elliott Brown (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Exclusions from map

We excluded the following areas from the woodland opportunities map:

  • Water bodies and existing woodland. 
  • Designated wildlife sites (like Sites of Special Scientific Interest), Priority Habitats, and semi-improved grasslands, because we don’t want to harm nature.
  • The highest quality good agricultural land (known as Grade 1 and 2) – we need this land to grow crops.  
  • The poorest quality agricultural land (Grade 5), almost all of which is carbon storing peat bogs. Planting trees on these would release more carbon than the trees would soak up.  
  • A portion of Grade 4 land. Grade 4 is poor quality agricultural land mostly used for pasture and is suitable for tree planting (particularly if we reduce meat consumption), but some of this land is used for crop growing. 
  • Grade 3 is split into 3a and 3b, with 3a the better quality. Some of 3b is used for crop growing and some is used for pasture. We excluded all of Grade 3a land and the areas of 3b that is used for crop growing.  

What we were left with after this process was most of Grade 4 agricultural land and much of Grade 3b agricultural land. We also excluded more of the Grade 3b land, specifically if the land had been used as pasture for some years. Some of this land could be important for wildlife and flowers (much of it might not be). Land that’s good for plants and insects should be properly identified and designated as a protected site, but sadly not all of it is. We have been very cautious but can’t be exhaustive in our research, so each potential site must be thoroughly investigated.

Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery who have raised over £7.8 million to support Friends of the Earth’s Climate Action Campaign