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Reforesting England’s private lands

Friends Of the Earth’s open letter calls on England’s biggest landowners to grow more trees.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has produced the first league table of England’s ten largest landowners, ranking each by the area of woodland they own. It says that the major landowners must use their estates to fight the climate crisis, by improving woodland cover.

In 2019, FoE stated that the UK needed to double its average woodland cover to tackle climate change and protect and restore nature. The UK is one of the least wooden nations in the EU, with only about 2% of the UK’s original woods left. Just 10% of England is covered in trees, compared with an average in the EU of about 38%.

Woods are a significant carbon sink, meaning that protecting forests and increasing tree cover is a significant step that can be taken towards carbon mitigation. The Centre for Alternative Technology and FoE have suggested that the UK should increase its tree cover to 26%, as part of steps to tackle climate breakdown.

Major landowners must improve tree cover

FoE’s league table shows that major landowners have much room for improvement.

FoE forest league table

Firmly rooted at the bottom of the league table is the Church Commissioners, the investment arm of the Church of England, whose 105,000-acre estate has just 3% woodland cover (compared to the dismal 10% national average). This is despite the Church committing to reach net zero emissions by 2030 at this year’s General Synod.

The Prince of Wales also performs poorly (his 130,000-acre Duchy of Cornwall estate has just 6% woodland cover) despite being known for his interest in environmentalism.

“Much of England is owned by a very small number of landowners, who have a responsibility to better use their land in a way that helps address the climate and nature crises facing us all. A big part of this means growing more trees, which would remove planet-wrecking carbon from the air and provide homes for wildlife,” commented Guy Shrubsole, a tree campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“The Government shouted from the rooftops about the launch of the England Tree Strategy but didn’t even set a tree target for the country.” The England Tree Strategy will update the UK’s policy for trees. “This lack of ambition shows a complete disregard for the climate crisis. Ministers must turn this around, by committing to a target to double UK tree cover and providing better incentives for landowners to grow more trees and rewild their estates.”