Tree equity map reveals disparity in tree cover

A new online map shows that less affluent areas in the UK have fewer trees and miss out on essential health benefits, like cleaner air.

City scape Birmingham

First launched by American Forests in the US in 2021, the Tree Equity Score has just launched in the UK in a partnership between American Forests, the Woodland Trust and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare.

The score combines tree canopy data from Google and six climate, health and socio-economic indicators to generate a score from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the greater the need for investment.

The UK Tree Equity Score reveals:

  • neighbourhoods where tree cover per person is highest, have roughly 30% less NO2 pollution and 10% less particulate matter pollution than neighbourhoods where tree cover is lowest
  • UK-wide, neighbourhoods with the highest income levels have more than double the tree cover per person than less affluent neighbourhoods and have nearly 20% less nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution
  • lower tree cover has a dramatic effect on neighbourhoods: for example, those with the highest number of trees have up to 330% less air pollution and are four degrees Celsius cooler during a heat wave than neighbourhoods where tree canopy is lowest
  • UK-wide, neighbourhoods with fewest people identifying with minority ethnic groups have roughly double the tree canopy per person than neighbourhoods with the most, and experience 50% less NO2 air pollution, 20% less particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution and are five degrees Celsius cooler.

The Woodland Trust is encouraging the nation to find the Tree Equity Score for their area and urges governments – nationally and locally – to integrate the Tree Equity Score into policies and plans, to ensure this disparity is tackled. Cities such as Birmingham and Belfast are already adopting Tree Equity, having recently included actions on tree equity in city-level plans to increase tree cover. The tool will be demonstrated at COP28 to encourage adoption in more cities across the globe.

Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO at the Woodland Trust, said: “This is a breakthrough moment for trees in the UK. For the first time everyone can see an inequity that is hidden in plain sight – access to the essential benefits of trees. Tree Equity Score shows that there are major differences in levels of tree cover between neighbourhoods and that these often follow socio-economic trends. Tree Equity Score is a tool for action to start addressing this inequity and ensure the essential benefits of trees can improve public health and climate resilience for all. More than 34,000 urban neighbourhoods are covered by Tree Equity Score, meaning that nearly 80% of the population can go online and find their score. There are numerous underlying reasons for tree inequity, and it is a serious problem in need of immediate solutions. We believe the tool will inspire people to get involved with local projects to plant and care for urban trees. We are calling on national and local governments to integrate tree equity into national and local policies and plans, and to fund and recruit more tree officers to address tree inequity.”

Benita Hussain, Tree Equity lead at American Forests, said: “This program symbolises a major step in our mission to ensure equitable access to urban forests globally. In the US, we’ve seen how data-driven strategies can transform communities through urban forestry, enhancing not only environmental health but also social wellbeing. For the first time, differences in levels of tree cover in towns and cities across the UK have been mapped for anyone to see.”

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare works with healthcare professionals and the wider public to help develop the knowledge, skills and tools people need to play their part in the transformation to sustainable healthcare. “We know that trees have a huge positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and healthcare providers are uniquely placed to champion access to these benefits,” said Sarah Jordan, Director of Green Space for Health at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. “From individuals through to anchor institutions such as the NHS, Tree Equity Score can be used at any scale to help get trees where they’re needed most and reduce health inequalities.”