Making Way for Trees? Changes in Land-Use, Habitats and Protected Areas in Great Britain under “Global Tree Restoration Potential”

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Numerous tree planting initiatives have been launched worldwide, based on the idea that carbon capture by trees can help to limit global warming. A recent study estimated the additional tree canopy cover that could be established given the growing conditions in every square kilometre of land on earth that is not already forested, urbanised, or used for crop production. It reported a total “tree restoration potential” of >900 million ha worldwide and identified hotspots where opportunities for tree planting initiatives may be the greatest. With the potential for an estimated 4.2 million ha of additional canopy cover, one such hotspot is Great Britain. We quantify the extent of habitats, land uses, and protected areas that would be impacted by tree planting on this scale in Great Britain and discuss the potential social–ecological trade-offs involved. Our findings show that realising the “tree restoration potential” would mean a considerable upheaval for the British landscape with 30–50% of ecologically valuable habitats lost and a reduction of 44% in the area of improved grassland. Up to 21% of land protected by law for its ecological, scientific, scenic, or cultural value would be impacted. Importantly, we demonstrate that an alternative approach based on increasing tree canopy cover by up to 20% in urban areas and on cropland could make a substantial contribution to tree planting targets, potentially offsetting losses elsewhere. Such shifts in the structure and function of the British landscape will depend on deep changes in the food system, evidence-based decisions about which existing habitats to protect, and a long-term commitment to tree planting and maintenance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5845
Number of pages10
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited


  • tree restoration
  • habitats
  • land use
  • protected areas
  • conservation
  • agroforestry
  • urban planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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