The problem

How do you identify promising sites for doubling tree cover in the UK? Local people need the information to work with landowners and decision-makers but existing maps don’t do the job.

Strategic regional planning maps tend to show only existing land use. They don’t help people make decisions about the best places to support nature, store carbon or work at parish or neighbourhood level.  It’s a big step from maps of woodland potential to potential action.

The challenge

How can we support local activists with tools to make a powerful case for tree cover and other nature-friendly land use in their area?

What if?

… local activists could use a map to propose the best possible use of land for nature’s recovery and help them understand their area’s collective potential for tree cover?  What if these maps could cover any neighbourhood or parish in the country?

What did we test?

Our vision for the greenbelt prompted Bristol-based mapper and campaigner Tim Richards of Terra Sulis to get in touch. Using a mix of open source maps and satellite data, Tim worked with us to develop a prototype for the Chew Valley area in the Bristol greenbelt.  He also trained an algorithm to correctly identify current land use from satellite images.

He found there is more than enough space to double tree cover without impacting on arable agricultural land - including through restoring forgotten areas of ancient woodland.

What we learned

Tim’s work has already supported Chew Valley Plants Trees, a newly-formed community group. He has been responding to the direct needs of local campaigners, including parish councillors from parishes that have declared a climate emergency. The maps are proving useful for activists who are using and testing them with landowners and other members of the community.

What next?

Tim is developing his work to ensure that it includes the potential for agro-forestry and factors in other important conservation habitats, particularly rare grassland. He’s looking at ways to make it easier to identify the landowner, where this information is available. Feedback from the local Chew Valley campaigners will help us provide guidance for other areas and shape the final outputs.

We are also scaling Tim’s work to cover the whole of England and Wales. Soon anyone will be able to enter their postcode via our website and generate a map to show what the potential for tree cover is in their area.

These maps won’t be prescriptive – there will always be choices to be made and on-the-ground knowledge will always be important – but they will give local campaigners much easier access to the information they need to inspire and drive action.