Future of UK Treescapes

Oak tree

The Future of UK Treescapes programme seeks to significantly improve the environmental, socio-economic and cultural understanding of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes, in order to inform decision-making on the expansion of future treescapes for the benefits of the environment and society.

The programme will bring new understanding of the treescapes in the UK with respect to (i) the type and extent of these treescapes and the functions and services they provide for the environment and to society; (ii) their vulnerability and adaptive capacities given current and future environmental change; and (iii) plausible social, economic, cultural, technological and environmental pathways to enhance the extent, quality and adaptive capacity of these treescapes for the benefits of the environment and society.

This interdisciplinary programme is led by UKRI-NERC and jointly funded with the Arts & Humanities Research Council (UKRI-AHRC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (UKRI-ESRC).

Appointment of Future of UK Treescapes Ambassadors

2 Oct 2020

NERC, the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) are pleased to announce the appointment of ambassadors to its Future of Treescapes research programme.

1 2 3 4

Landscapes across the UK will be changed dramatically by 2050. They need to become more resilient to pressures such as changing climate, disease, and competing land use demands, in order to reverse the decline in biodiversity and environmental quality.

Alongside deep cuts in anthropogenic carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognises the potential of treescape restoration to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The UK government has committed to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and afforestation is expected to play a key role in delivering the final and hardest part of this target.

Recent radical changes in UK agricultural policy introduce a “public money for public goods” approach, which favours the range of “public goods” delivered by multipurpose landscapes. The 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) espouses a move from existing biodiversity net gain to a broader “environmental net gain” requirement that recognises the diversity of benefits, trade-offs and synergies of landscape changes.

Forest and woodland management must also be responsive to different future societal needs and consider community, cultures, and histories with regards to the changing UK treescape. National and devolved nation policies, addressing international climate change and biodiversity goals (e.g. the proposed Environment Bill), emphasise the enhancement and expansion of their treescapes, while simultaneously setting ambition targets to create regionally-specific cultural, social, and economic goods.

A common theme across all these policies is the need to recognise the multiple environmental, social, economic, and cultural benefits which treescapes can deliver, which will drive innovation and delivery of a bio-economy contributing strongly towards energy production, food security, material science, public health, community assets, including heritage preservation, and recreation.

An interdisciplinary approach across the environmental and social sciences and the arts and humanities, is required to improve our understanding of the complex interplay between environmental conditions and constraints on the treescape with our social and cultural requirements, and failure to recognise them can result in highly adverse outcomes. Advances in new and emerging technologies, application of novel methodologies and use of environmental, socio-economic data and historical records, and incorporation of local community perspectives and collective memories, have the potential to reveal many previously hidden properties and trends, and create a richer understanding of different treescapes.

Improved understanding of this complex interplay will help decision-makers, at all levels from individual through to community, local and national governments, determine the location and type of treescapes required in the future in order to grow the green economy, reduce inequalities and lead to healthier, more resilient, and culturally rich environments for future generations.

The overarching objective of the “Future of UK Treescapes” programme is to improve significantly the environmental, socio-economic and cultural understanding of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes, in order to inform decision-making on the expansion of future treescapes for the benefits of the environment and society.

Three themes have been identified to address the overarching objective:

Theme 1: Form, function and values of UK Treescapes

This theme seeks to better understand how we characterise a fully functioning treescape and the functions and services provided by UK treescapes. It will explore the ways they have been shaped by different management practices, environmental conditions, cultural and socio-economic drivers and values through time, and how this is expected to change with the new social, economic, cultural and environmental demands placed on treescapes. Characterisation will require data at scale and from diverse sources, from the molecular, organismal and biome through to socio-economic datasets, cultural and historical evidence, and aesthetic and ethical values.

Theme 2: Opportunities, barriers and pathways for expansion of UK Treescapes

Understanding the potential contributions and limitations of expanding UK treescapes to delivering local requirements as well as national and international policy goals is an important theme in this programme. There is a need to understand the environmental, social, and economic benefits and limitations of different strategies of treescape expansion and configuration. Realistic pathways to achieve afforestation targets will need to be identified, taking into account the diverse benefits and disbenefits of treescapes and balancing competing demands and priorities of stakeholders. Pathways should lead to a sustainable expansion of the treescapes, and there is a need to understand how this pathway feeds into policy making and its contributions to economy, climate mitigation and adaptation, and changing societal and cultural values in the face of pressures arising from the expansion.

Theme 3: Resilience of UK Treescapes to global change

The UK treescape needs to be placed in a global context – both policy and environmental. The programme seeks to identify these drivers of change (for example changes in climate and atmospheric pollution, increased pest and pathogen outbreaks, and human population change) that pose significant risks to the resilience of current and future UK treescapes over decadal and longer timescales, and identifying strategies and measures (such as low risk pathways) that could mitigate their impact and enhance treescape resilience.

A holistic, whole-systems approach will be required to capture interactions across spatial and temporal scales and trophic levels, alongside socio-economic and cultural responses and management interventions. The programme seeks to exploit innovative sensing, analytical, and genetic technologies, arts and humanities methodologies, as well as the creation and linking of environmental, social and economic data sets that will transform understanding of treescape form, function, and feedbacks.



Can I apply for a grant?

The call for a programme ambassador is now open until 21 May 2020.


£14.5 million is available to support a number of funding calls and activities across the four years of the programme.

Programme awards

No awards have yet been made.

Programme Executive Board

The Programme Executive Board (PEB) is responsible for the strategic direction and management of the programme and delivery of the programme's objectives. The PEB currently comprises appropriate representation from the funders: UKRI-NERC, UKRI- UKRI-AHRC, UKRI-ESRC.

Other individuals relevant to items being discussed will also attend PEB meetings.


The Secretariat is responsible for the management of the programme on behalf of the PEB, including financial management, procurement and grant awarding, which is carried out according to the policies and procedures of UKRI. The Secretariat is provided by UKRI-NERC.

Programme Ambassador

A programme ambassador will be appointed to provide added value to the portfolio of projects funded through the programme. The role will be outward facing, engaging with public, policy makers, land users and managers to ensure the programme has a strong profile across all relevant communities. The ambassador will also provide advice and recommendations to the PEB as required.