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UK News

Church of England's investment branch said to have lowest percentage of woodland among institutional landowners

by Cara Bentley

The Church Comissioners say they 'do not recognise' data by the Friends of the Earth that suggests they have the lowest ranking percentage of woodland cover in a list of big institutions. 

The Church Commissioners look after the assets of the Church of England and own around 105,000 acres of land in England. 

The environmental charity carried out analysis on the top ten institutional landowners in England and ranked them by how much woodland cover they have, with the Commissioners ranking with the lowest proportion at 3, 215 acres. 

Following after them was the Duchy of Cornwall, six per cent of whose land was woodland.

The Forestry Comission topped the list at an unsurprising 85 per cent but the National Trust, despite being in second place, was well below that at 18 per cent. 

The land owned by the Church Commissioners is separate from that owned by dioceses and parishes, which may have churches, graveyards and fields on. 

The Church Commissioners do not publish a comprehensive digital map of their estates, so the information was drawn from other public data. This showed 73,000 acres out of the stated 105,000 acres. The woodland cover known about on the 73,000 is 4% and an estimated 3% of the overall declared estate. 


The Church Commissioners told Premier that they 'do not recognise' this data, saying it is incomplete and that they planted 2.6 million trees last year. 

Guy Shrubsole, a tree campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told Premier: "It's very interesting because not many people realise that the Church Commissioners own huge areas of agricultural land as well as areas that they developed for real estate...spread in every county virtually, including farmland. Obviously, we wouldn't be suggesting that we should be planting lots of trees on on prime food growing land - although even there, there is possibility for incorporating more trees into the farm landscape through things like agroforestry and increasing hedge row coverage and size. 

"But from what we've seen, it does look like there's quite a lot of land owned by the Church Commissioners that's potentially quite poor quality farmland. If a proper wildlife survey is carried out to the area and determines that it's okay to reforest some of that land then that could be potentially ideal land for doing so. We're not at all saying that existing precious habitats should be damaged by artificial tree planting; we also support peatland restoration, wildflower meadow restoration, all those sorts of brilliant things as well. But we are just asking 'is it possible for you to do more than three per cent woodland cover on this huge estate that you own?' And obviously, that would be fantastic to help do more to tackle climate change, to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and to look it up in trees would be a brilliant way to help contribute to fixing the climate crisis."

The Church of England's General Synod, made up of bishops, clergy and lay people, has voted for the Church to counter-balance all their CO2 emmissions by 2030, showing there is desire in the Church itself for change like this. 

Shrubsole said: "We have been trying to engage with the Church Commissioners over the past year. In fact, we were told from the from the outset by the Commissioners' head of estates that they did not give out plans of the Commissioners' lands.

"What we'd love to see is perhaps more openness and more engagement. We know there's lots of people within the Church who do genuinely, seriously believe that we need to tackle climate change...and we really just want to help with that and we'd love to see more openness and engagement from the Church Commissioners because we really hope they can step up to the plate and and can do more to plant more trees."

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