We have a chance to make England’s national parks trailblazers for natural climate solutions.
Woodland cover in some of England’s national parks is lower than it is in major cities, an assessment by Friends of the Earth suggests.
Research mapping woodland in the 10 English national parks, which would once have been filled with temperate rainforest and wild woods, shows just 15 percent of these landscapes are now wooded, the green group said.
Its report, supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, suggests that the amount of woodland cover in the national parks could be more than doubled without harming other important habitat and land.
Friends of the Earth said the national parks, which cover a tenth of England, were not rising to the challenge of the nature and climate crises by increasing woodland cover and looking after other habitats such as peatbogs.
The assessment suggests woodland cover in the Yorkshire Dales stands at 4.1 percent, lower than London’s 4.5 percent, and in the Peak District is at 8.4 percent, lower than Leeds where it is 9.8 percent.
Sheffield’s 13.3 percent tree cover is higher than levels in the Lake District and the Dartmoor, according to the findings.
The analysis suggests that there is potential for the national parks to have total woodland cover of close to 35%, without infringing on important habitats, land designated as wildlife sites, valuable farmland or lower quality land regularly used for growing crops, or peatland.
Friends of the Earth also warned that data it has got from Natural England shows only 26 percent of protected habitats in national parks, such as peatland, is in a healthy state, compared to 39 percent of those sites across England as a whole.
The findings come after the Government announced it would be protecting an extra 400,000 hectares of land in England for nature to bring the total amount protected up to 30 percent by 2030 to reverse declines in wildlife and habitats.
But while the Government says 26 percent of land in England is already protected, conservationists warn that includes national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) which do not necessarily focus on nature.
Friends of the Earth trees campaigner, Danny Gross, said: “England’s national parks have not risen to the challenge of the climate and nature crisis. This isn’t even listed in their core purposes set out by the government.
“National parks cover roughly a tenth of England’s land and offer enormous opportunities for natural climate solutions, such as woodland creation and peatland restoration, which would also go a long way to support new wildlife.
“We have a chance to make England’s national parks trailblazers for natural climate solutions such as woodland and other precious habitats.
“It’s time for National Park Authorities, the government and landowners to step up and work together to fight the climate crisis.”
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “England’s forests and woodlands have a vital role to play in the fight against climate change and this research provides a fascinating insight into the potential level of tree cover which could be achieved in the country’s national parks.
“Our players have raised more than £30 million for charities working to protect and enhance our woodland and the wildlife which depends upon it for survival. By doing so, they’re also helping limit our impact on the climate.”
Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.