Vic-tree! The greenest and greyest parts of England revealed

01 June 2021 | OVO Energy

children playing in forest

Live in Surrey, Exeter or London? Well you're in leafy luck, as we've revealed the leafiest parts of the country to live in according to tree cover percentage* - and the results might surprise you.

Teaming up with Bluesky - an aerial survey company that analyses tree cover using its National Tree MapTM technology - the figures revealed by this study show the startling difference in tree cover in a bid to encourage Brits to sign an online petition that asks the Government to set a legally-binding tree planting target. 

Planting and protecting trees is one of the most readily available ways to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help slow down climate change. OVO Energy, who plant one carbon-fighting tree for each member every year, started the petition in the hope it reaches 10,000 signatures by 13th May, forcing the UK Government to respond. 

Topping the leafy list is Surrey, which hails as the greenest area in England at 31% tree cover, or a tree-mendous 9.88 trees per person[1]. At the bottom end of the scale, surprisingly, is the Lake District with only 0.13% of its natural landscapes covered by trees. Furthermore, despite being famous for its scenic coastline, Portsmouth has the lowest tree cover percentage out of any city (4%), with only 5.53 trees per person [2].

This surprising rural vs city trend continues throughout the rankings, as areas renowned for their natural beauty score lower for tree cover when compared to England’s largest cities. Rural areas such as Cornwall (5%), Suffolk (8%) and Norfolk (12%) are beaten for percentage of tree cover by industrial hubs such as London (20%), Manchester (19%), Leeds (17%) and Newcastle (16%).

Exeter (21%), second best area for tree cover percentage, is nearly thirty times more leafy than nearby national park Exmoor, which comes in as the second worst area for percentage of tree cover at just 0.71%. Similarly in the North, metropolises Manchester (19%) and Leeds (17%), beat neighboring Yorkshire Dales for tree cover more than four times over (3.96%).

Bristol, known for its green credentials, unpredictably ranks as the 5th greyest city in England at 8% - and only 1 tree per person [3].

Elsewhere, London ranks third highest on the green list with over 20% of the city being covered with trees. Boroughs within central London such as Westminster (19%) and Southwark (20%) surprisingly outrank areas on the outskirts, such as Barking and Dagenham (9%). Even famously green Richmond upon Thames (27.04%) is just knocked off the top spot for greenest borough by Barnet (27.1%).

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The top five best and worst areas to live in England for tree cover

Highest tree cover percentage

  1. Surrey (30.92%)
  2. Exeter (20.45%)
  3. London (20.16%)
  4. Plymouth (20.08%)
  5. Gateshead (19.77%)

Lowest tree cover percentage

  1. Portsmouth (3.97%)
  2. Cornwall (4.46%)
  3. Lincolnshire (5.67%)
  4. Suffolk (7.67%)
  5. Bristol (7.92%)

Alongside the petition, OVO Energy and its tree-planting partners - The Conservation Volunteers and the Woodland Trust have planted almost 2 million trees to help combat climate change, and are aiming to plant almost a million more over the coming year.

Kate Weinberg, Group Sustainability Director at OVO Energy, said “There is nothing more important than protecting the world we live in and trees are a huge part of that.  It’s why they are so important to us at OVO Energy and why we plant one carbon-fighting tree for each member, every year. But we need more - in both rural and urban areas."

"Together, we must rally the Government to take action and set a legally-binding tree planting target. You can make a huge difference by taking just one minute to sign our petition today, helping the UK reach its all important net zero target.”

The UK has a net zero carbon emissions target enshrined in law, however to meet this, the Climate Change Committee recommends that 1.5 billion trees would need to be planted by 2050. This is the equivalent to an area of at least 30,000 hectares, or roughly 45,000 football pitches, every year. Current tree-planting rates are around 13,500 hectares per year, meaning tree planting rates need to more than double to meet this goal. 

Read our guide to rewilding to learn more about why it's important to restore the native ecosystems in our wildlife.

Sources and references

*Tree cover percentage = the area of tree canopy as a percentage of the total area of interest  

Methodology: Bluesky’s National Tree MapTM (NTM) is created using the UK’s most consistent and highest specification aerial photography and terrain datasets captured by Bluesky. Complex computational algorithms are applied to the data to extract information on spatial location, size and height of every tree. These are then represented as map features that can be analysed to generate a whole range of statistical data relating to tree coverage.