The UK government has launched a consultation to guide development of the England Tree Strategy, due to be published by the end of 2020. The strategy will establish plans for the expansion and management of trees and woodland in England through to 2050.

The consultation – which mentions the role of existing public land such as hospital grounds in contributing to tree cover – is seeking views from the public, charities, land managers, landowners and investors as well as the forestry and tree sector. Led by the Department for Environnent, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) it focuses on four main areas:

Planting trees

A key criticism of the document is its lack of adequate targets. A central aim of the strategy is to increase the carbon store in the UK. Given that trees currently only capture 4% of UK emissions, more trees are needed, lots of them! According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) the United Kingdom must commit to planting 30,000 to 50,000 hectares of trees per year until 2050 if it is to reach net zero by this date, with an increase in UK forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% over the same period1. England in particular needs to ramp up development of woodland, as most of the recent expansion within the UK has happened in Scotland. 

The Defra consultation outlines the Government’s existing commitments to increase UK tree planting to 30,000ha. a year by 2025 and woodland cover in England from 10% to 12% by 2060. Through the new strategy it says, “planting will increase year on year”. The document fails, however, to set an annual target for woodland creation in England – either for the initial years of the strategy or later ones – or to set an overall target for woodland cover that meets the CCC’s ambition.

Using public land for greening England

The consultation includes the need to use public land in expanding England’s tree cover and proposes to look at the scope for this on existing public estate –  including on hospital grounds – while taking account of operational needs. As part of this it says it is considering a commitment for each government department to identify opportunities to increase tree planting across its estate. The consultation adds that public and charitable organisations could have an important role to play in helping to plant and manage new woodlands on such land.

We support these proposals and would like to see them strengthened. The NHS holds 4,758 hectares of land in England2, of which over 2,000 hectares are external. The NHS Forest was initiated with the pioneering idea of recognising the potential of this for planting trees for the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. More than 190 NHS sites have joined our network to date, planting over 65,000 trees on or near NHS land. It is a movement that has grown from the ground up, but, along with many of our sites, we have argued for the importance of national leadership and appropriate resources to support this literal greening of the NHS. The commitment from leadership will also be essential to ensure that areas where trees are planted will be preserved as green spaces going forward.

We will be providing feedback and encourage our partners to do the same, and to share your support for planting many more trees at NHS sites.

Promoting health and wellbeing

The consultation also highlights the importance of green space for health and wellbeing and hopes to encourage connections between humans and the natural environment. It includes questions on the use of green space and current barriers to its access. Defra says tree canopy cover in England is 16% in urban areas, but that this varies greatly between and within towns and cities. To help address this, it argues, we need to find ways to better value, plant, and protect trees.

In addition to working closely with trusts to plant trees, the NHS Forest has promoted the use of green space for health and wellbeing for over a decade. NHS hospitals are anchor institutions within rural, suburban and urban communities throughout the country. Developing the potential of NHS land for community use creates new opportunities for people to spend time in nature. Greening the NHS estate will not only contribute to nature recovery, but will help to reduce inequalities in access to green space.

The England Tree Strategy survey closed for consultation on 11 September 2020.


[1] Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK. (2020). Committee on Climate Change. Retrieved from:

[2]  Estates Returns Information Collection 2018/19 Report Version 4. (2019). NHS Digital. Retrieved from:…

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