An environmental charity is bidding to create an “M25 for nature” that would encircle London in woodland, hedgerows and street trees to boost biodiversity, carbon capture and wellbeing.
The countryside charity CPRE London hopes to weave together existing areas of green belt in the city’s 18 outer boroughs to create an uninterrupted ring of trees around the capital.
The director of CPRE London, Anna Taylor, said the charity was applying for funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and called on Londoners to assist in identifying potential sites that could be used to connect woodland areas to create a “corridor for wildlife”.
Britain has lost almost half its biodiversity since the Industrial Revolution, and Taylor underlined the potential role of a “tree ring” in protecting ecosystems. “It’s absolutely key that we’re focusing on strengthening the habitats around London. Woodland is one of the most diverse habitats once it becomes established – a mature oak tree on its own can host 2,300 species.”
Some places may be less suited to planting traditional native woodland, Taylor said, explaining that alternatives such as hedgerows, orchards, and street trees could also be used to maintain an unbroken ring of plant life, allowing wildlife to move between wooded areas.
Map of the green belt and open land in Greater London
While the precise route would be determined by the mapping, the first phase of the project in north London is expected to focus on the areas in, around and between Epping and Hainault forests, while planting in the south of the city would initially concentrate on restoring areas previously covered by the Great North Wood, she said.
Mapping is under way with Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC (GiGL). “Our role is going to be advocating to local authorities and private landowners about the benefits of planting and the urgency of taking action,” Taylor said. “It may be thicker in some boroughs than others – it depends on the underlying habitats.
“We’d be particularly keen to hear about opportunities for buffer planting to grow existing wooded areas, planting on the edges of playing fields where a wooded area could provide a shady respite on hot days … or planting near streams and rivers that could contribute to natural flood management.”
Flowers bloom in Epping Forest. Photograph: Delia Ray – CPRE London/CPRE London
The project would include residents from the outset in a way that is adaptive to local land use. “The idea of a community forest is all about multi-purpose planting that really serves communities, rather than blanket planting of trees.”
The tree ring has strong potential to bolster access to green space for Londoners, Bridget Fox, the Woodland Trust’s south-east regional external affairs officer, said. “We’ve known for decades how important woodland is for climate and for biodiversity. But something that was heightened during lockdown and since is how important having access to green space is for people’s wellbeing.
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“Whether that’s the cleaner, moister, cooler air, or the just the tranquility of being in touch with nature … There’s even been research on the savings to the public purse of better wellbeing from being out and about in nature.
Sydenham Hill forest in south-east London. Photograph: Anna Taylor- CPRE London/CPRE London
“People now recognise the green belt needs to earn its keep as land use, whether that’s in terms of sequestering carbon or helping deliver nature recovery. But [having] countryside on London’s doorstep, giving everyone better access to nature, is really important too.”