Gardens play key role in helping towns and cities create extensive tree cover

A research project has found that urban areas are not all high-rise flats and offices, they are also where you’ll find many of the country’s trees. Two London boroughs – Camden and Croydon – were among the top 20 places in England and Wales with the most tree cover, while largely rural areas had some of the least – including part of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Importantly, garden trees are boosting numbers in towns, while farming helps explain some of the low rural rankings.

Bluesky International, an aerial survey company who carried out the work with the help of mapping specialist Esri UK, say they have detected around 400 million trees so far – but there are still more to find.

Yet their work to-date shows that most trees are clustered in the south. Camden and Croydon show almost a third of the boroughs covered in trees. Croydon has several areas of woodland and Camden includes Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill. But when the data is mapped you can see the distinct pattern of tree lined streets and trees in gardens that help push up the percentage.

Surrey Heath has the largest percentage of trees. But the area “has seen quite a recent transformation,” John Tucker from the Woodland Trust says. “If you look back 60, 80, 100 years a lot of this area was open heathland and would have been managed and grazed.”

But as livestock farming became less economical the area has returned to woodland.

The place with the lowest tree cover is South Holland – an area of mainly farmland on The Wash in Lincolnshire. It is closely followed by neighbouring Boston. This part of the east coast, all the way to East Yorkshire, features in the bottom 20 areas.

“These areas were swept of trees for farming and have never recovered,” says Dr Paul Brindley, an expert in trees and planning at Sheffield University’s Department of Landscape Architecture.

After the ice-age this area would have been 80-90% trees according to Peter Leeson from the Woodland Trust. But the demand for wood over history has meant trees have been felled and used for everything from wood fuel to building mines. Many areas have also been cleared to make way for fields for animals to graze and sheep can have a secondary effect of eating new trees before they get a chance to establish.

Dr Brindley says it is important to know where the trees are because it can help assess their impact.

“It’s not just like there’s one thing they’re providing benefits for – there are a wide range of benefits.”

Studies show green spaces and trees in particular can help improve people’s health and wellbeing as well as helping with bio-diversity. Bees in particular like trees. They also play an important role in cooling our urban areas which often generate more heat than the surrounding rural areas because of the number of buildings, people and vehicles.

Cllr Adam Harrison, cabinet member on Camden Council believes trees play an important role in the wellbeing of people in his borough. “They can improve air and water quality, reduce noise pollution, support wildlife and are fantastic for improving mental and physical health” he says.

As part of the National Garden Scheme’s partnership with the Woodland Trust we are working to champion trees in wild and domestic settings. For more information on which trees work well for gardens and which attract wildlife or are great for autumn colour click here

This content originally appeared on the BBC here

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