Close this search box.
Close this search box.

New ‘Tree Charter’ to protect people’s rights to the benefits of trees and woods

More than 70 organisations with a combined membership of 20 million people launch 10 principles to bring trees and woods to the centre of UK society.

Today sees the launch of 10 guiding principles for the future of trees, woods and people, drawn from more than 50,000 stories submitted by members of the public. The principles reveal the role of trees in our lives, and are agreed by a coalition of more than 70 cross-sector UK organisations. These organisations are now united in calling for people across the UK to stand up for trees by signing the Tree Charter and helping to shape history.

 The principles will form the bedrock of the new ‘Charter for Trees, Woods and People’ to be launched in November 2017, which aims to secure a brighter future for the nation’s woods and trees, and to protect the rights of all people in the UK to access the many benefits they offer.

The creation of the Tree Charter is supported by a raft of famous names including:  Clive Anderson, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Humphrys, Chris Packham, Kevin McCloud, Gemma Cairney and Carenza Lewis, who have all helped to create animations to support the project principles.

At a time when England may have tipped into deforestation, with more trees being cut down than planted for the first time in 40 years, it is essential we act now as a nation to protect the future of trees and woods for people for generations to come.

From community woods across the UK, street trees in our cities, timber in our houses, to many ancient trees and woods with historical and cultural connections such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs tree2 – which saw the birth of trade unions – or Sherwood Forest linked to much folklore and history, trees and woods play an important part in our lives3, but more woods are under threat than ever before4.

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust CEO said:

“Today, our nation’s woods and trees are facing unprecedented pressures from development, pests and diseases and climate change. They risk being neglected, undervalued and forgotten.  Now is the time to create a new Tree Charter, which recognises the importance of trees in our society, celebrates their enormous contribution to our lives, and acts now so that future generations can benefit from them too.

“Our collective ambition is for a Tree Charter that puts trees back at the heart of our lives, communities and decision making – where they belong. The Tree Charter will provide guidance and inspiration to allow us all to appreciate, preserve and celebrate our trees and woods for what they do for us in so many different ways.”

Whereas the historic charter was signed by the King to grant rights to his subjects, the new Tree Charter will draw its strength from people power, with signatures from hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK.

Principle Theme                                               Principle Aim

  1. Nature                                                  Thriving habitats for diverse species
  2. Planting                                               Planting for the future
  3. Arts & Heritage                                  Celebrating the cultural impacts of trees
  4. Utility & Livelihoods                         A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK
  5. Protection                                           Better protection for important trees and woods
  6. Planning                                               Enhancing new developments with trees
  7. Health & Wellbeing                           Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees
  8. People & Access to trees                  Access to trees for everyone
  9. Coping with Threats                          Addressing threats  to woods and trees through good management
  10. Environment                                        Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

The Tree Charter Principles articulate the relationship between people and trees in the UK in the 21st Century. The final Charter will provide guidance and inspiration for policy, practice, innovation and enjoyment, redefining the everyday benefits that we all gain from woods and trees in our lives, for everyone, from Government to businesses, communities and individuals.

People can find out more and sign the new Charter at:


Notes to editor:

For more information please contact: Steve Marsh, Woodland Trust, press office on 01476 581 121 or 07971 164 517 email

1Principle additional information:

Nature – Thriving habitats for diverse species

Urban and rural landscapes should have a rich diversity of trees, hedges and woods to provide homes, food and safe routes for our native wildlife. We want to make sure future generations can enjoy the animals, birds, insects, plants and fungi that depend upon diverse habitats.

Planting – Planting for the future / 25% tree cover for the UK

As the population of the UK expands, we need more forests, woods, street trees, hedges and individual trees across the landscape. We want all planting to be environmentally and economically sustainable with the future needs of local people and wildlife in mind. We need to use more timber in construction to build better quality homes faster and with a lower carbon footprint.

Arts & Heritage – Celebrating the cultural impact of trees and woods

Trees, woods and forests have shaped who we are. They are woven into our art, literature, folklore, place names and traditions. It’s our responsibility to preserve and nurture this rich heritage for future generations.

Utility & Livelihoods – A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK

We want forestry in the UK to be more visible, understood and supported so that it can achieve its huge potential and provide jobs, forest products, environmental benefits and economic opportunities for all. Careers in woodland management, arboriculture and the timber supply chain should be attractive choices and provide development opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses.

Protection – Better protection for important trees and woods

Ancient woodland covers just 2% of the UK and there are currently more than 700 individual woods under threat from planning applications because sufficient protection is not in place.

We want stronger legal protection for trees and woods that have special cultural, scientific or historic significance to prevent the loss of precious and irreplaceable ecosystems and living monuments.

Planning – Enhancing new developments with trees
We want new residential areas and developments to be balanced with green infrastructure, making space for trees. Planning regulations should support the inclusion of trees as natural solutions to drainage, cooling, air quality and water purification. Long term management should also be considered from the beginning to allow trees to mature safely in urban spaces.

Health & Wellbeing – Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees

To create understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees. Having trees nearby leads to improved childhood fitness, and evidence shows that people living in areas with high levels of greenery are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese. We believe that spending time among trees should be promoted as an essential part of a healthy physical and mental lifestyle and a key element of healthcare delivery.

Access to trees – Access to trees for everyone
Everyone should have access to trees irrespective of age, economic status, ethnicity or ability. Communities can be brought together in enjoying, celebrating and caring for the trees and woods in their neighbourhoods. Schoolchildren should be introduced to trees for learning, play and future careers.

Addressing threats – Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management

Good management of our woods and trees is essential to ensure healthy habitats and economic sustainability. We believe that more woods should be better managed and woodland plans should aim for long term sustainability and be based upon evidence of threats and the latest projections of climate change. Ongoing research into the causes of threats and solutions should be better promoted.

Strengthening landscapes – Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees

Trees and woods capture carbon, lower flood risk, and supply us with timber, clean air, clean water, shade, shelter, recreation opportunities and homes for wildlife. We believe that the government must adopt policies and encourage new markets which reflect the value of these ecosystem services instead of taking them for granted.

2Tolpuddle Martyrs tree. A 300-year-old tree, regarded as the birthplace of the trade union movement. The sycamore in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle was where farm workers met in 1834 to protest over wages. Six men, who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, were deported to Australia but later pardoned.

3Trees and woods are hugely valuable for our health, happiness and our children’s development. Only 51% of children achieve the recommended hour of physical activity each day (girls just 38%, compared with 62% for boys)5 and research shows that just having trees close to residential areas encourages increased outdoor exercise6 Other research highlighted that asthma rates in children fell by 25% for every additional 343 trees per square  kilometre7 their local area.

The State of Nature report shows 60% of woodland wildlife species surveyed are in decline across the UK.8  In addition, habitat loss, through development and more intensive land use have contributed to increasingly fragmented habitats and species decline. Development, poor management and disturbance continue to threaten these fragments of habitat, and wildlife here is isolated and vulnerable. Reductions in enrolments on forestry, land management and environmental courses compounds the problem through a lack of skilled and informed practitioners.

Valuable habitats are still under threat, the area of new woodland created annually continues to fall, far too few trees are being planted to achieve a better connected landscape, and the impact of tree disease will undermine this further. Research for the Woodland Trust by Europe Economics found that woods and trees deliver £270bn worth of benefits to society. This makes the call for a charter more important than ever.

4 Woods under threat: currently the Woodland Trust has over 700 case of ancient woodland under threat across the UK on its database, more threats than ever recorded before. Examples are:

  • Smithy Wood, Sheffield. Ancient woodland under threat from a new service station on the M1.
  • Over 63 ancient woodlands are under threat from HS2.
  • A quarry application that threatens ancient woodland at Hynford Quarry in Scotland. Cemex Ltd. has applied for planning permission to extend existing sand and gravel quarrying near New Lanark in Scotland. The application is in close proximity to a World Heritage Site and the western extension would result in an area of ancient woodland being lost.

*The organisations involved in the call for a Charter include:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association UK
Ancient Tree Forum
Bat Conservation Trust
Black Environment Network
Borders Forest Trust
Butterfly Conservation
Campaign for National Parks (CNP)
Campaign Strategy
Caring For God’s Acre
Centre for Sustainable Healthcare
Church of England
CIEEM (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management)
City of Trees Manchester
Coigach Assynt Trust
Continuous Cover Forestry Group
Country Land and Business Association CLA
Forest School Association (FSA)
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Going Wild
GreenBlue Urban
GroundWork Gallery
Grown in Britain
Institute of Chartered Foresters
John Muir Trust
Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA)
Llais y Goedwig
MADE (Muslim Action for Development and Environment
Mersey Forest
National Association of Local Councils
National Trust
National Union of Students
Natural Resources Wales
New Forest National Park Authority
Northern Ireland Environment Link
Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
Order of British Druids
Royal Forestry Society
Royal Horticultural Society
Small Woods Association
Soil Association
SWOG Small Woodland Owners’ Group
The Sylva Foundation
Tree Design Action Group
The British Beekeepers Association
The Climate Coalition
The Conservation Foundation
The Land Trust
The Landscape Institute
The Sherwood Forest Trust
The Tree Council
The Wildlife Trusts
The Windsor Estate
Tir Coed
Trees for Cities
Wild Network
Wildlife & Countryside Link
Woodland Heritage Limited
Woodland Trust

5 Woodland Trust, Healthy Woods: Healthy Lives. Townsend, M. (2013)

6 Columbia University researchers found asthma rates among children aged four and five fell by a quarter for every additional 343 trees per square kilometre. Lovasi, G., Quinn, J., Neckerman, K., Perzanowski, M. & Rundle, A. (2008) ‘Children living in areas with more street trees have lower prevalence of asthma.’ Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 62(7), pp. 647-649.

7 ‘Greenspace, urbanity and health: relationships in England’, Mitchell R & Popham F, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 61: pp681-683, 2007.

8 RSPB State of Nature Report 2013.

The 1217 Charter of the Forest
In 1217, two years after the Magna Carta was signed by King John, his heir Henry III signed the Charter of the Forest. The aim of this document was to protect the rights of free men to access and use the Royal Forests. The Charter of the Forest provides a window to a time in history when access to woods was integral to daily life. Being denied access for grazing livestock, collecting firewood and foraging for food was a real concern for the people of the time.

Latest news