5 Essential GIS Datasets for Planning Tree Planting Schemes in the UK

By July 10th 2024

As the UK grapples with the accelerating impacts of climate change, tree planting schemes have emerged as a vital strategy to enhance biodiversity, absorb carbon, and improve urban environments. Effective planning of these schemes requires the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) datasets, which provide critical insights into various environmental, social, and economic factors. This blog highlights five essential GIS datasets that can significantly aid in planning tree planting schemes in the UK, ensuring they are both sustainable and beneficial in the long term.

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Land Use and Land Cover Data

Understanding current land use and land cover is crucial for identifying suitable areas for tree planting. This dataset helps planners determine which areas are already forested, which are urban, and which might be converted from agricultural use to woodland. For example, CORINE Land Cover provides detailed information on land cover and land use across Europe, while Ordnance Survey MasterMap offers highly detailed land cover data specific to Great Britain. By analysing land use and land cover data, planners can identify underutilised lands, such as abandoned fields or urban areas lacking green spaces, making them prime candidates for tree planting.

Abelardo Lopez-Palacios, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.

Land Grade Classifications

Land grade classifications provide information on soil quality and agricultural potential. This data helps in determining the suitability of land for tree planting, especially in balancing agricultural needs with afforestation efforts. Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) classifies land in England and Wales into five grades based on agricultural quality, from Grade 1 (excellent) to Grade 5 (very poor). Using ALC data, planners can identify lower-grade agricultural lands that may be more suitable for tree planting, thereby avoiding high-quality arable land.

Climate Data

Climate data is essential for selecting tree species that are well-suited to local conditions and for anticipating future climate scenarios. Understanding temperature, precipitation, and climate zones ensures that planted trees will thrive. UK Climate Projections (UKCP18) provides future climate projections, helping to anticipate changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, while Met Office Climate Data offers historical and current climate data for various regions in the UK. By integrating climate data, planners can choose tree species that are resilient to local and projected climate conditions, ensuring long-term success of tree planting schemes.

Topography and Elevation Data

Topography and elevation data are vital for understanding the physical characteristics of the landscape, such as slope and altitude. This information is critical for preventing soil erosion and ensuring proper drainage, which are essential for healthy tree growth. Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) from Ordnance Survey provide detailed elevation data across the UK, and LiDAR data offers high-resolution topographic data. Topography and elevation data help in selecting sites that are not prone to erosion or flooding and aid in designing tree planting patterns that follow the natural contours of the land, promoting water retention and soil stability.

Biodiversity and Habitat Data

Biodiversity and habitat data ensure that tree planting efforts enhance local ecosystems rather than disrupt them. This dataset helps in identifying areas where new plantings can support wildlife and connect fragmented habitats. Protected Sites Data from Natural England provides information on designated wildlife sites and protected areas, while Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitats highlight areas critical for biodiversity conservation. By overlaying biodiversity and habitat data, planners can identify priority areas for conservation and restoration, ensuring that new tree plantings contribute positively to local biodiversity and habitat connectivity.

Incorporating these five essential GIS datasets into tree planting schemes can greatly enhance their effectiveness and sustainability. As the UK continues to address climate change, leveraging these datasets will ensure that afforestation efforts are strategically planned and executed, providing lasting environmental benefits. By understanding and utilising these datasets, planners can make informed decisions that align with both current environmental conditions and future climate projections. This approach not only supports the UK’s commitment to a greener, more resilient future but also helps mitigate the impacts of climate change by creating robust, diverse, and thriving woodland ecosystems.


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