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NEWS RELEASE No: 1465926 MAY 2011

England has more woodland than it thought, new data show

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Contract staff carrying out field survey for the National Forest Inventory (NFI)

England has more woodland than previous estimates indicated, according to provisional results from the National Forest Inventory.

The provisional results of analysis of high-tech aerial photography, satellite imagery and other sources were published today as part of a major Forestry Commission project to compile the next National Forest Inventory (NFI).

They show that England has 1,294,000 ha of woodlands covering 9.9 per cent of the land area, up 164,000 ha from the previous estimate from 2010.

The difference in reported areas is mostly due to improved technology and including small woods in towns and cities in the statistics for the first time.

Pam Warhurst, Chair of the Forestry Commission, welcomed the statistics’ publication, saying,

“If we are to have an ambitious programme of increased tree cover, which we must, we really do need to have a baseline that is robust and credible. What we have published today is just that.

“I’m particularly pleased that this work provides a great platform from which to plan urban tree expansion. Increasingly, planners, developers and investors are realising the benefits that trees bring, from their urban cooling effect through to just making our towns and cities more pleasant places to live in.”

The increase in the reported woodland area over the previous estimate can be attributed to a number of factors, as Peter Weston, Head of Inventory and Forecasting for the Forestry Commission, explained:

“The difference is mostly because we were able to use more sophisticated tools and techniques for gathering and interpreting woodland cover information than we have ever had since we began compiling forest inventories in the 1920s. These include satellite imagery and advanced geographical information systems (GIS).

“As a result we’ve been able to pick up more areas where woodland has regenerated or been planted, or been lost or removed, without our knowledge.

“We’ve also been able to ‘fine tune’ some of the data and correct mistakes in the previous inventory that inevitably happened because we did not have the sophisticated resources that we have now.

“This time we’ve also been able to accurately measure all woodland, urban and rural, down to areas as small as 0.5ha. Previously we only recorded the total area of woods greater than 2ha, and estimated the area of rural woods smaller than 2ha by recording a small sample and rating up the results.”

This and other information being compiled for the National Forest Inventory will help those planning to ensure that Britain's forests can withstand expected changes in the climate, contribute to climate change mitigation, and help society cope with some of the effects of climate change, such as flooding and heat-waves. NFI information will also underpin a wide range of future decisions about topics such as nature conservation, research, tree planting, forest and timber industries' development, and public recreation.

It will be valuable to people and organisations including: forestry policy makers; forest owners, managers and planners; the forestry and timber industries; local authorities; woodland-owning non-government organisations; and people and organisations with interests in biodiversity, wildlife, forest recreation, forest-related community development, and soil and water. The provisional woodland area results might also be a useful update for the Independent Forestry Panel for England, giving it robust and credible data to inform its work.

Further information, including the maps and woodland cover statistics for each country, the methodology report and a Frequently Asked Questions document, is available from


  1. The provisional statistics for all three countries show an increase over the previous estimate for 2010. The country breakdown is, with the previous estimates in parentheses:
    • England - 1,294,000ha; 9.9 per cent (1,130,000ha; 8.7 per cent);
    • Scotland - 1,385,000ha; 17.8 per cent (1,343,000ha; 17.2 per cent);
    • Wales - 303,500ha; 14.3 per cent (284,000ha; 13.7 per cent).
    • Great Britain – 2,982,000 hectares; 13 per cent of total land cover (2,757,000 ha, 12 per cent of total land area);

  2. The previous estimate for 2010 used the statistics gathered in the late 1990s for the previous inventory (known as the National Inventory of Woodland and Trees, or NIWT), updated by known woodland gains and losses each year since.

  3. Today’s publication of woodland area statistics is just the first of many outputs expected from the NFI, which, when complete, will be the most comprehensive inventory of information about Britain’s woods and forests ever compiled. Over the next few years the Commission will publish a wide range of NFI information including more local analysis, composition, age, carbon sequestered, timber volume, health, condition and many other topics spanning all public, private, urban and rural woodland in Britain.

  4. The NFI records land use, rather than what happens to be covering the land at the moment it is photographed. Therefore a recently felled forestry site with no trees on it at the time it is photographed, but which is expected to be replanted and have trees growing on it again within 10 years, is classified as woodland for the purposes of the NFI. Also, land that has been cleared of trees for the purposes of changing the land use, such as restoring wetland or heathland or for development, remains recorded as a woodland use for 10 years until the change of use has been clearly established, unless an obvious and permanent land use change is detected, e.g. it is already occupied by buildings or a quarry etc.

  5. Among the technological reasons for the greater accuracy of the new statistics are:
    • the availability for the first time of satellite imagery, which is used especially to quality assure much of the data gathered by aerial photography. Satellites photograph Britain frequently, whereas comprehensive aerial photography is only possible once every few years, so satellite imagery can ensure that data are more up to date;
    • the availability of colour aerial photographs of all of  Britain in digital formats that can be manipulated in GIS systems, such as by “zooming in”. Previous inventories did not have direct access to aerial photographs of all of Britain, and much of what was available was in black and white prints, making data interpretation less easy;
    • the availability of photographic imagery at 1:10,000 scale instead of the previous 1:25,000 scale, making wooded areas easier to distinguish from unwooded areas;
    • improved Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, facilitating more-accurate data capture, better quality assurance, and more-detailed reporting;

  6. The previous inventory (NIWT) concentrated on rural woodland and woods greater than 2ha, and did not include statistics for urban woods smaller than 2ha. However, all woods greater than 0.5ha were recorded for the current inventory.

  7. For NFI purposes, areas that have been cleared of trees to change the land use to, for example, native heathland or windfarms, remain recorded as woodland for 10 years unless there has been an obvious and permanent change of land use.

  8. The UK remains one of the least forested countries in Europe – the average woodland cover of the European Union is 37 per cent of the land area, and in greater Europe including the Russian Federation it is 45 per cent. However, thanks to the policies of successive governments since the First World War to encourage reforestation, the UK’s woodland cover has more than doubled from an estimated 5 per cent in 1905.

  9. The Independent Panel on Forestry was established on 17 March 2011 by the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, to advise government on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England and on the role of the Forestry Commission in implementing policy. Further details are available from

  10. See also the FAQs available from

  11. To convert hectares to acres, multiply by 2.47.


For information about woodland cover in:

  • England – Stuart Burgess 0117 372 1073 or Becci Turner 0117 906 6030;
  • GB as a whole – Charlton Clark, 0131 314 6500;
  • Scotland – Paul Munro or Steve Williams 0131 314 6507/8;
  • Wales – Clive Davies or Mary Galliers, 0300 068 0300. (The NFI woodland map and statistics for Wales were published on March 17th 2011.)