Wide landscape image of a tree planting site

Woodlands for Water – The First Planting Season Roundup on Clean Air Day 2023

To celebrate Clean Air Day we’re highlighting some of the amazing work from our Woodlands for Water Project. In just 18 months the involved trusts have over 419Ha of woodland creation in the pipeline. Read all about how our member trusts are working with landowners and farmers, and how riparian planting can support the fight against air pollution.

Rebecca Duncan


The situation with air pollution

Air pollution is a significant environmental issue in the UK. The government and NGOs have taken various measures to raise awareness of air pollution and its side effects, and while progress has been made, our air quality remains a significant challenge.

National days such as Clean Air Day, help to spread the word about the health impacts of our pollution, and support the implementation of policies to reduce emissions from various sources.

Other eNGOs like the Woodland Trust are supporting the issue through planting the right tree, in the right place at the right time, in both residential and rural locations. Highlighting the fact that air pollution not only affects humans but also our wildlife and our woodlands.

How trees support air quality

The connections among local air quality, climate change, and the biodiversity crisis create an opportunity for a triple victory in addressing air pollution when it comes to planting trees — benefiting the climate, people, and nature.

Trees play a crucial role in mitigating air pollution and improving air quality: acting as natural air filters and absorbing harmful pollutants from the atmosphere. They’re effective in capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. By absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis, trees help to mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce air pollution in the long term. Additionally, trees along watercourses, help support our rivers by providing shade and reducing temperatures, as well as providing habitat for local wildlife.

Funded by Defra, our Woodlands for Water (W4W) project is actively highlighting how riparian tree planting can enhance local nature recovery networks and support landowners and farmers to to get the best and most up to date information on tree planting and its advantages.

Throughout the UK, our affiliated local rivers trusts, National Trust, Woodland Trust and the Beaver Trust have been collaborating with landowners to promote the benefits of riparian tree planting through the English Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO). This grant provides financial incentives for tree planting, enabling the creation of new habitats and green infrastructure to combat climate change. In addition, local trusts have the necessary resources to offer guidance and assistance to landowners in applying for the EWCO. They also assist in exploring carbon finance opportunities to further incentivise woodland creation.

What RT are doing in the tree planting sphere

Since the W4W project launched, we’ve now got 419 Ha of land in the pipeline to be planted with native trees.

In some locations, planting is already underway or completed, thanks to our member trusts; West Country Rivers Trust; West Cumbria Rivers Trust; the Wye and Usk Foundation; and our Riverscapes partner The National Trust.

Newly planted trees in Devon

In Chasty Devon, a site aptly named Deer Meadows, is now home to 2 Ha of woodland creation through the work of West Country Rivers Trust. This equals to approximately 1,600 trees in the ground. Nick Donohue from West Country Rivers Trust said,

“It is a great site with a lovely, naturalised river and areas of productive grassland plus existing woodland, hedgerows, and marshy grassland. This makes it a great mosaic of habitats.”

While this site is currently establishing successfully, it did raise the complexity of riparian design, especially when it comes to flood-risk and deer management. Nick continues,

“We had to wrestle with the issue of whether to [tree] guard or not to [tree] guard in a floodplain with a high deer risk. Fencing would’ve been likely to attract debris and fail if any major flooding events occurred. So, using disposable guards in the most at risk areas of flooding, was a good compromise.”

These disposable tree guards are normally made from cardboard or other biodegradable materials as to not leech microplastics into the waterways.

Leaky dam at Deer Meadows in Devon

To support the prevention of flood-risk, five leaky dams were also installed at Deer Meadows. Leaky dams, also known as woody debris dams or leaky barriers, are structures built in watercourses using logs, branches, and other natural materials to create a series of small, localised obstructions.

These dams are designed to mimic the natural features of a stream or river, with their primary purpose of restoring and enhancing natural river processes. As well as supporting flood risk reduction, they also help with sediment retention, habitat creation and bank stabilisation.

Close up image of a leaky dam at Deer Meadows, Devon

In Cumbria, West Cumbria Rivers Trust has planted over 14 Ha of woodland. Over four locations in Corney, Thirlmere and Bootle West Cumbria Rivers Trust have been supporting local landowners through EWCO agreements and community grants to plant a mix of native species. Caitlin Pearson from the trust explained how planting has to be mindful of other plant-life in the area,

“At [one of the] sites, there was some floral interest, so it was planted at a low density with rowan, bird cherry, field maple and small leaved lime.”

Community investment funds are also supporting local engagement in Cumbria. Enlisting the help of a nearby primary school to design and plant the woodland alongside volunteers from the catchment. 1000 trees were planted including oak, rowan, birch, hazel, crab apple, scots pine, hawthorn, bird cherry, field maple and willow. For community use, HMP Haverigg built a bird hide and furniture for the site.

By embracing tree planting initiatives, communities across the UK are breathing new life into the fight against air pollution. The numerous benefits provided by trees, coupled with collaborative efforts, pave the way for a greener and healthier future.

Wide landscape image of a tree planting site
Woodlands for Water has been delivered through Defra's Nature for Climate Fund
Back to top