Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: 2024

Natural capital accounts containing information on the extent, condition and ecosystem services for woodlands in the UK.

Hwn yw'r datganiad diweddaraf. Gweld datganiadau blaenorol

Email Natural Capital team

Dyddiad y datganiad:
15 May 2024

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
To be announced

1. Main points

  • The UK land area covered by woodlands increased from 7% in 1965 to 13% in 2023.
  • The asset value of UK woodlands was an estimated £382 billion in 2021; while timber and woodfuel is often seen as the main woodland asset, it accounted for 3.9% or £14.8 billion.
  • Greenhouse gas regulating services, woodlands sequestering greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, was 39% of the total asset value in 2021 (£150 billion).
  • The total annual value of UK woodlands ecosystem services was an estimated £10 billion in 2021.
  • The annual non-timber benefits of UK woodlands in 2021 were an estimated £10 billion, exceeding the market benefits of timber and woodfuel (£441 million) by approximately 23 times.
  • An estimated 3.2 million people gained health benefits from recreation in UK woodlands in 2022, with an annual value of £1 billion.


As a result of changing methods and an expanding portfolio of natural services measured, this latest account cannot be directly compared with previous years’ accounts. Our latest methods have been applied retrospectively, giving a consistent time series in these accounts.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

2. UK area covered by woodland

In the UK, woodlands are tree-covered landscapes, such as plantation forests, more natural forested areas, and lower density or smaller groups of trees.

The area of UK woodlands in 2023 was 3.3 million hectares, according to Forestry Statistics 2023 (Figure 1). The UK land area covered by woodlands increased from 7% in 1965 to 13% in 2023 (Table 1), with Scotland more than doubling its land area of woodland during this time.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

3. Woodland condition indicators

Condition indicators look at the relationship between ecosystem health and the delivery of ecosystem services. The United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), which provides overall guidance for natural capital accounting, defines ecosystem condition as “the overall quality of an ecosystem asset in terms of its characteristics” in their Discussion paper (PDF, 605KB).

Condition indicators comprise physical, chemical, compositional, structural, and landscape conditions specific to woodlands. Figure 2 provides an overview of these indicators for UK woodlands, with long-term trends. Condition data from the National Forest Inventory for a further nine indicators are excluded because they have only one data point.

Figure 2: Summary of long-term trend for woodland condition indicators

Embed code

Physical state: soil

Soil is important in woodlands for providing a fertile topsoil for trees and plants to grow their roots, according to the Woodland Trust's Woodland Conservation News (PDF, 1,425KB).

Findings from the Countryside Survey reveal a decline in soil acidity, an increase in pH value, in broadleaf woodland in Great Britain between 1978 and 2007 (Table 2). This trend aligns with the reductions in industrial sulphur emissions during the 1980s, leading to a reduction of acid rain.

Compositional indicators

Species indicators reflect habitat health. The National Bat Monitoring Programme’s (NBMP) woodland bat index increased 40% between 1999 and 2020, while GOV.UK’s butterfly index shows a long-term decline. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s (JNCC) woodland bird index contains 37 species, with only one specialist increasing – the long-tailed tit, by 90% – over the time series. Four of the woodland specialist birds, willow tit, lesser spotted woodpecker, spotted flycatcher and capercaillie, declined 90% between 1970 and 2022.

Figure 3: Compositional woodland species for bats, bees, birds, butterflies and moths, Great Britain, or UK

Embed code


  1. The gap in the time series for birds is because of the limited availability of 2020 data due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
  2. The arrow on each chart denotes the change over the time series, from the baseline year to the most recent year for which we have data. An upward pointing arrow indicates an increase and a downward pointing arrow shows a decrease.

Statutory plant health notices

A statutory plant health notice (SPHN) is issued to allow trees to be felled to prevent the spread of diseases or pests. For the period 2021 to 2022, there were 720 statutory plant health notices issued across the UK, covering 4,000 hectares (see supplementary tables for detail).

National Forest Inventory – compositional and structural indicators

The National Forest Inventory (NFI) surveys more than 15,000 woodland sites in Great Britain, totalling an area of 2,947,834 hectares.

Table 3 shows 48% of the sample sites were unfavourable for the number of native trees and shrub species, where favourable means the presence of five or more native species. These trees and shrubs are considered good for supporting native woodland biodiversity because they tend to be more diverse communities, including habitat-specialist species. Non-native trees can cause or facilitate the introduction and spread of tree pests and, therefore, threaten native trees. For more information, see the Forestry Commission’s NFI woodland ecological condition in Great Britain: methodology (PDF, 3.1MB).

Landscape-level indicators

Habitat connectivity

Habitat connectivity is a measure of how well different species can move between habitats in the landscape.

The average functional connectivity for UK woodland birds was relatively stable between 1985 and 1996 (Figure 4). After a decline in the smoothed bird index between 1999 and 2006, there was some recovery from 2007, but most species in the index (57%) declined in connectivity between 1999 and 2012, shown in JNCC’s Habitat connectivity report.

Woodland on farmland

Woodland on farmland provides habitat connectivity for wildlife, natural flood protection and boosts biodiversity, according to the Forestry Commission’s report on How woodland creation benefits your farm (PDF, 4.8MB). The proportion of woodland as a share of total UK farmland increased from 1.6% in 1984 to 5.8% in 2021, then decreased to 5.5% in 2022.

Environmental pressure indicators

Environmental pressure indicators can provide useful proxies for the condition of ecosystems. Detailed data for wildfires, herbivore damage, condition of protected sites, area of certified woodland and access to woodlands can be found in the supplementary tables.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

4. Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services estimate the contribution of woodlands to the economy and society.

In 2021, the latest year with complete data, the total annual value for woodland ecosystem services was £10.4 billion (2022 prices). This is a partial valuation, excluding food from agroforestry and education, for example.

Figure 6: The annual value for greenhouse gas regulating in UK woodland increased by 10% between 2010 and 2021

Ecosystem services for the UK, £ million (2022 prices), 2010 to 2022

Embed code

Figure 7: In Scotland, the annual value of timber (excluding woodfuel) trebled between 2010 (£81 million) and 2022 (£251 million)

Ecosystem services for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, £ million (2022 prices), 2010 to 2022

Embed code

Provisioning services

Provisioning services are products from nature, such as food, energy, and materials.

Timber provisioning (excluding woodfuel)

In 2022, 63% of UK-harvested timber was sourced from Scotland, 20% from England, 12% from Wales and 5% from Northern Ireland (Figure 8). For 2022, 92% of all timber harvested (including woodfuel) in the UK was softwood (coniferous), with 64% of this softwood harvested in Scotland, 19% in England, 12% in Wales and 5% in Northern Ireland. The UK annual value of all timber (excluding woodfuel) was £399 million in 2022. More information can be found in the Forestry Commission’s UK-grown timber report.

Woodfuel provisioning

Woodfuel – a form of fuel such as firewood, charcoal, chips, sheets, pellets, and sawdust – represented 23% of total timber fellings in 2022. The annual value of UK woodfuel in 2022 was £116 million.

Regulating services

Regulating services help to maintain the quality of the environment we depend upon. They include natural processes, such as air quality, greenhouse gas and flood regulating services.

Greenhouse gas regulating

Woodlands remove greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. In 2021, UK woodlands sequestered 19.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, valued at £5.1 billion.

While the amount of greenhouse gases removed fell year-on-year between 2014 and 2021, the annual value increased by 6% over the same period. This is caused by rising non-traded carbon UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) prices, shown in GOV.UK’s Participating in the UK ETS guidance.

Air pollution regulating

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that outdoor air pollution contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2019.

UK woodlands, including broadleaf, coniferous and urban trees, can remove airborne pollutants from the environment, therefore reducing harmful human health effects. Air pollutants measured are:

  • NH3
  • NO2
  • O3
  • PM10 (fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres, with PM2.5 as a subset)
  • SO2

See the supplementary tables for full details.

In 2022, UK woodlands removed 316,454 tonnes of these pollutants from the atmosphere (Figure 11), providing an estimated £1,785 million in avoided negative health impacts, with 56% contributed by broadleaf trees.

Air pollution regulating service valuations are determined by risk to health. Ground-level ozone (O3) represented 82% of all pollutants removed in 2022, though only accounted for 1% of the annual value. PM2.5 poses the greatest risk, so accounted for most of the annual value (96%), but only 5% of the total amount of pollutants.

Flood regulating

Woodlands can reduce downstream flooding. To capture the flood regulating service for woodland in Great Britain, Forest Research examined how much it would cost to have flood water storage (reservoirs) in non-woodland areas; they looked at the substitution costs of having no woodland.

In 2022, the UK annual value of flood regulating services was estimated at £911 million, while the total asset value stood at £27 billion.

Urban heat regulating

Woodlands also provide cooling benefits to urban areas, reducing labour productivity losses and reliance on artificial cooling like air conditioning.

In 2022, the UK annual value for this service was £753 million, an increase of 243% from 2021. See our detailed data tables.

Noise regulating

Green spaces, including woodlands, mitigate urban noise pollution.

In 2022, 167,000 UK urban buildings benefitted from noise reduction by urban trees, with an annual value of £17 million.

Cultural services

Cultural services are the non-material benefits we obtain from ecosystems, such as tourism and recreation in woodlands, and their associated health benefits.

Recreation and tourism (expenditure)

There were an estimated 748 million recreation and tourism visits to UK woodlands in 2022.

The number of visits to UK woodlands increased by 93% between 2019 (436 million) and 2020 (843 million), partly because of the effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdown restrictions, which changed how people interacted with nature.

In 2022, the annual value of recreation and tourism in woodlands stood at £907 million. For more detail, including time series and four-nation breakdowns, see our supplementary data tables.

Recreation (health benefits)

Research from scientific reports shows that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with health and well-being benefits.

The number of people gaining health benefits from recreation in woodlands declined 6% from 2020 (3.4 million) to 2022 (3.2 million). This is because visits to woodlands declined between 2020 and 2022, with shorter visits which were not long enough to gain health benefits. The annual value for this service was £1,149 million in 2022.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

5. Woodland asset value

The total UK asset value of woodland ecosystem services we are currently able to value was an estimated £382 billion in 2021 (Table 5).

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

6. Woodland natural capital accounts data

Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: summary tables
Dataset | Released 15 May 2024
A detailed data breakdown of financial and societal value of woodland natural resources in the UK.

Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: detailed summary tables
Dataset | Released 15 May 2024
A detailed data breakdown of financial and societal value of woodland natural resources in the UK.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

7. Glossary


A natural asset is a resource that can generate goods or services to humans into the future.

Asset valuation estimates the stream of services that are expected to be produced by the natural resource over a reasonably predictable time horizon.


Trees that do not have needles or cones, such as oak, birch and beech. A few, such as alder, have cone-like structures for their seeds that are not true cones.


Trees with needles and cones, such as spruce, pine and larch.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services estimate the contribution of natural assets in the UK to the economy and society.

This includes provisioning services such as food and water, regulating services such as flood protection and pollution removal, and cultural services such as recreation.

Non-market benefits

Non-market benefits are goods and services that are not traded in markets, such as air pollution removal.


The volume of wood including the bark. Can be either standing volume or felled volume.


Woodlands in the UK are tree-covered areas that include plantation forests, more natural forested areas, and lower density or smaller stands of trees.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

8. Measuring the data

In this bulletin, the woodland habitat accounts are presented in four sections, which are:

  • the UK area covered by woodland (extent account)
  • indicators of the quality of the woodland ecosystem and ability to continue supplying services (condition account)
  • quantity and value of services supplied by the woodland ecosystem (physical and monetary ecosystem service flow accounts)
  • value of woodland as an asset, which represents the stream of services expected to be provided over the lifetime of the asset (monetary asset account)

The data underpinning woodlands natural capital come from a range of sources with different timeliness and coverage. This release is based on the most recent data as of January 2024.

These accounts have been compiled in line with the United Nations (UN) System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) and the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework. These are extended accounts complementing the UN System of National Accounts (SNA). We have also published the principles we follow when interpreting UN guidance to produce natural capital accounts in our Principles of UK natural capital accounting methodology.

Detailed methodology on the calculations of ecosystem services can be found in our Woodland natural capital accounts methodology guide, UK: 2024.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

9. Strengths and limitations

Data quality

The ecosystems services are classed as official statistics in development. There is no single data source for the UK for the individual ecosystem services. They are calculated from data from the four UK nations with different data availability and production periods.

Ecosystems provide a diverse range of services and not all are included in this bulletin, either owing to unavailability of data or the need for additional valuation methods. We intend to expand our reporting on such services.

Nôl i'r tabl cynnwys

Manylion cyswllt ar gyfer y Bwletin ystadegol

Natural Capital team
Ffôn: +44 1633 580051