You can help protect the climate and restore nature by reforesting your area. This guide explains how to get your council to grow more trees in your neck of the woods.

09 Mar 2020

Summary

Woodlands once covered large parts of our country, but over the centuries they were chopped down. Now just 13% of the UK is covered in woodlands, compared to an EU average of 38%.

We need to reforest the UK to tackle the climate and ecological crisis. In addition to protecting old trees, we have to grow lots of new ones. And every community can play its part by doubling local tree cover.

People in communities across the country are getting their hands dirty by planting trees. This is great but it's not enough. We also need local councils to set ambitious plans to double tree cover.

Your local council can play a key role in doubling tree cover. Councils collectively own 1.5 million acres of land in England and Wales and influence how land is used across your area. It's vital that councils grow the right trees in the right places. For more information, read the section below on "How to find land for trees".

By pledging to double local tree cover, councils will build momentum and support for our wider goal – to get the UK government to double national tree cover by unlocking more funding for trees. 

Many councils – including Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, Hackney, Leeds, OxfordSouth Gloucestershire and Wirral – have signed up to doubling tree cover. Can you get your council to follow their lead?

Start off by getting your local group to campaign to double tree cover. Show them our series of beautiful short films about trees, presented by Dan Snow. And then get them fired up with this brilliant video about natural climate solutions by Greta Thunberg.
   

What’s the level of tree cover in your area?

What percentage of your local area is covered by woodlands? To help you find out, Friends of the Earth has analysed Forestry Commission data on UK woodland cover and broken it down by local authority area (download this Excel spreadsheet).

Tree cover, which also includes street trees, is a measure of the total area of land covered by tree canopy (leaves, branches and stems). For a rough estimate of total tree cover in your local authority area, check out Friends of the Earth’s postcode tool (enter your postcode and then scroll down to the section on trees).

A tree-mapping tool called i-Tree has been used to estimate tree cover in hundreds of towns and cities  across the UK.

How to engage your local councillors

Here are some key demands for councils:

  1. Publicly announce a long-term goal of doubling tree cover. 
     
  2. Carry out a survey to map existing tree cover and identify suitable locations for new trees.
     
  3. Produce a comprehensive Trees and Woodland Strategy.
     
  4. Write to the government's Environment Secretary to request more funding for councils to grow and maintain trees.

Here are the top ways you can ask your local councillors to reforest your area:

  1. Send your local councillors our briefing about how to double local tree cover. It outlines the benefits of trees and shows how councils can find the money and land to grow and maintain them.
     
  2. Ask your local councillors to introduce a council motion to double local tree cover. There’s a template motion they can use in the councillor briefing. Feel free to personalise it for your area.
     
  3. Organise a face-to-face meeting with your local councillor to discuss the issue. 
     
  4. Find out which executive councillor is responsible for trees – and arrange a meeting with that person.  

Enter your postcode here to find your councillors’ contact details. Some areas have more than one council that could influence tree cover. In these areas, we recommend trying to get both your lower tier councillors (e.g. district, borough and city councillors) as well as your higher tier councillors (e.g. county councillors) to sign up to double tree cover.

If you want to plant some trees, ask your councillors if there are any upcoming tree planting events – and find out if they are part of a long-term plan for doubling tree cover. 

Arguments for doubling tree cover

Here are some key arguments you can use to convince your councillors to double tree cover:

  • Trees are our natural allies in the fight against climate breakdown as they draw down carbon from the air. Doubling UK woodland cover could help absorb 10% of the UK’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to research by Friends of the Earth.
     
  • Nature is in crisis – and we need to create space for it. Trees and woodlands support hundreds of species of insects, birds and mammals.
     
  • Trees benefit mental and physical health – trees help clean polluted air, while access to green spaces is vital to our well-being.
     
  • Trees help adapt an area to climate breakdown by providing shade and reducing flood risk.
     
  • Trees can contribute to local jobs – in tourism, recreation, forestry, or sustainable woodland management.

We get it – many councils are cash-strapped after a decade of austerity. Our briefing for councillors shows how councils can access money and make a business case for doubling tree cover. 

Councils should explore opportunities to create woodlands by natural regeneration, which can be great for wildlife and cheaper than tree planting. Natural regeneration happens when trees develop naturally from seeds that have fallen from nearby trees. For more info on natural regeneration, read this guide by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

We’ve noticed that councillors often avoid saying whether they support doubling tree cover. They often talk about short-term, small-scale tree planting initiatives. But that’s not enough. We need them to set a long-term goal to increase tree cover.

How to spread the word in your community

In addition to engaging with your local councillors, it's also important to demonstrate public support for doubling tree cover.

Here are some tactics you can use:

  • Create a petition to recruit people to your campaign. You can then show community support for doubling tree cover by handing in the petition signatures to your local council.
    • For example, over 1,500 people have signed a petition to double tree cover by Oxford Friends of the Earth.
    • We've created a template petition and can provide your group with a digital campaigning tool called Action Network to create it. Email us at trees@foe.co.uk to get your own petition. 
    • You can then spread the word about the petition by sharing it on social media, running a stall or hosting events like talks, woodland walks or a film screening. For example you could show this series of great little video about trees by Dan Snow and this inspiring short video by Greta Thunberg
       
  • Organise an open letter of key organisations and individuals in your local area, which could include local NGOs, community organisations, faith groups, MPs and local celebrities.
     
  • Get local press coverage for your campaign. For example, you could tell your local newspaper about your petition or open letter. Check out Friends of the Earth’s guides on how to create a media strategy, write a press release and give a media interview.
     
  • Get creative! Feel free to organise your own stunts  to raise awareness about the campaign. Let us know your ideas, so we can share them with other groups.
    • Could you make a video or street performance that tells a story about trees? (For inspiration, check out the eye-catching performances of climate activist group ‘BP or not BP’ that raise awareness about fossil fuel sponsorship of art institutions.)

How to find land for trees

To persuade your council to double tree cover, it can be helpful to show councillors where they can grow more trees, either by tree planting or natural regeneration. 

It's important to avoid planting trees in Priority Habitats that have high conservation value, including bogs and species-rich grassland and meadows. To see Priority Habitats in your area, use this map. Click on the box labelled "Habitats and Species" and the box labelled "Habitats", and then zoom in until you see coloured areas on the map, representing different key habitats.

If you're considering planting trees, contact your local Wildlife Trust and council biodiversity officer about site suitability.

Here are a few tips on finding land for more trees:

  • Check if your local council has carried out an assessment of tree cover. Portsmouth Council released a report that outlined tree cover in council wards, as well as the number of trees on streets, private gardens, and public parks. This helped Portsmouth Friends to Earth to identify locations for new trees. 
     
  • Gather views from local residents. Portsmouth Friends of the Earth collected suggestions from residents about where to grow more trees, and included it in this brilliant report that was sent to the council. The council has agreed to adopt many of their demands. 
     
  • Many councils have volunteer tree wardens who play an active role in conserving and enhancing the trees and woods in local communities. Check out this map and enter your postcode to find a tree warden near you. 
     
  • Get in touch with a council tree officer, who is responsible for maintaining trees. Many tree officers are also members of the National Association of Tree Officers, which can help if you’re having trouble finding yours.

Additional resources

  • Council policy can be complex and confusing so we’ve created a more detailed briefing for local campaigners about getting your council to double tree cover.
     
  • We also wrote this briefing for councillors about how to double tree cover.
     
  • For more information about how to protect local trees and hedgerows, read our briefing on Tree Preservation Orders.

If you have any feedback or questions about the campaign, please email us at trees@foe.co.uk.

Trees
Trees