How trees and woodlands can improve our lives in and around towns and cities

urban house by the river with trees all around

We all love our trees and woodlands – and they give us a lot in return.

More than 80% of people live in urban areas. This means it is the trees and woodlands in our town and cities which enhance the lives of the most people, the most often, Trees and woodlands provide clear benefits for local economies, local environments, and local people. They punch above their weight as part of our 'green infrastructure'.

To enjoy the benefits of the urban forest, we must work together to protect, improve and expand it.

Good for the Economy

Urban forests... grow local economies

Every £1 invested in the Mersey Forest's community trees and woodlands has created £9.20 in local economic benefits. London's street trees alone have been valued at £4.2bn. This places them on a par with other critical urban infrastructure such as street lighting. Parity of investment in urban forests is needed to secure them for future generations.

The Central Scotland Green Network is transforming the landscape by creating a network of woodland and other habitats, active travel routes, green space links and waterways. This will make a significant contribution to Scotland's sustainable economic development, and is included in the National Planning Framework.

...increase residential value

Creation of Bold Colliery Community Woodland has directly enhanced the value of property in the surrounding area, by around £15 million. It also helped secure a further £75 million of new development.

...are good for business

Employees with access to natural green space can be more productive, with greater job satisfaction. Customers spend more time and money in retail areas with trees.

Good for the Environment

Urban forests... cool the air naturally

Canopy shading from trees in cities can cool the air by 2°C to 8°C, reducing heat-related illness.

...reduce pollution, and tackle climate change

Appropriately placed trees in cities can reduce concentrations of air pollutants. In Edinburgh, trees and woodlands remove around 100 tonnes of airborne pollutants a year, and sequester the same amount of carbon as that emitted annually by 20,000 people.

...combat flooding

Trees reduce the impact of heavy rain and floods, making Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems more effective. A three-fold increase in woodland cover from 9% to 27% in Greenwood Community Forest, Nottinghamshire, reduced annual recharge and run-off by 11% over a 24 year period.

And another thing... Green space with good levels of trees is less costly to maintain than grass

Good for People

Urban forests... mean relaxation and enjoyment

More than 2/3 of respondents to a recent survey visited woodlands in and around towns in the last few years. The top woodland activities were exercise, relaxation and, for parents, playing with their children.

...make people healthy and happy

Using the urban forest regularly improves physical health - reduced obesity, heart rate and blood pressure - as well as cognitive benefits, improved mood, increased self esteem, and social contact.

As part of "Greening the NHS Estate", Forestry Commission Scotland is working with the NHS to improve green environments around hospitals and healthcare facilities, improving access for patients, staff and the local community.

...bring communities closer

Community groups accessing Big Tree Plant funding enjoyed multiple benefits, from developing community spirit, to improving their environment and nature conservation.

But is green space benefiting everyone?

64% of people in the UK live within 4km of a 20ha woodland

People are most likely to visit green spaces - and therefore enjoy the benefits of urban woodland closest to their homes.

But not everyone's benefiting

Availability of quality green spaces varies, particularly in inner cities. Only 15.6% live within 500m of a 2ha woodland. People in deprived urban areas under use the most convenient local green spaces when they are of poor quality and feel unsafe.

In inner city London, there is 11 times less green space than in outer London. The Mayor of London's Street Tree Initiative is planting in areas that lack green space.

Green space is a good investment

In Birmingham, green space is mapped alongside the Potential Years of Life Lost (against national life expectancy). In areas with the most green space, total Potential Years of Life Lost was nearly 4 times lower than in the area with least green space.

What can we do?

The Urban Forest needs action to remain resilient

The urban forest needs self reliant, long-lived trees. Younger trees should become our mature trees of the future - yet there were fewer younger trees in the urban forest in 2008 compared to 1992. Larger trees, which provide a greater number of benefits are being cut down faster than they are being replaced.

Trees in urban areas can be badly affected by pests and disease, and a pathway for spreading these to the wider environment. It is critical we keep alert. We must plant a range of species to improve resilience to diseases and climate change. The Forestry Commission and its agency, Forest Research, is working to slow, and where possible prevent, the spread of pests and diseases in close partnership with the sector.

Let's work together to protect, improve and expand our Urban Forest

Local authorities are key players in protecting the Urban Forest. They can ensure that the benefits of the urban forest are reflected in policies and budgets. This can include valuing the urban forest (using tools such as iTree), and giving it recognition in planning policy.

Wide spread support from woodland and green-space managers, planners and those regenerating and improving urban communities is central to success.

The Forestry Commission is helping raise the profile of the urban forest, through gathering evidence, awareness raising and direct delivery. Forest Research works with partners across the sector to provide robust scientific evidence for urban tree policy and practice.

When we asked around for someone to complete our tree survey in Leamington Spa, everyone we spoke to recommended you. Now I know why!
Richard Donkersley, Leamington Spa

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