By Lisa Swann

If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey” or “Monarch of the Glen,” then you know the importance of Great Britain’s forests. Useful not only to aristocratic landholders for income and fine hunting land, forests also provide beauty and health benefits and fight climate change for all.

brown hairstreak
The brown hairstreak butterfly is one of the species that stands to benefit from the American Forests and Alcoa Foundation Partnership for Trees project in Exeter, England. Credit: Ian A. Kirk

With forest land cover at only 10 percent in England (one of the smallest percentages of forest in Europe), a new plan to halt government grants to landowners for forests next year comes as a surprise. Earlier this year, the government announced plans to expand the country’s forest land by more than 12,000 acres per year. Stopping new grants to landowners while changes to the Common Agricultural Policy are being made will likely cut in half the number of trees planted next year, and reduce the number by two-thirds in 2015, when England could actually end up in a period of deforestation.

“By not realizing that this lack of funding could have a severe impact on how well we respond to tree disease in terms of planting to build resilient landscapes, the government is sleepwalking into an era where England’s woods may start to shrink,” said Hilary Allison, Woodland Trust Policy Director. Until now, the current rural woodland program has planted more than 30,000 acres of woodland.

American Forests is also planting in England. Partnering with Devon Wildlife Trust, Alcoa Foundation and American Forests are planting 1,000 trees across eight locations in Exeter, England, to improve the environment surrounding local schools and to create a wildlife corridor from currently fragmented woodland.

While experiencing a major period of urban growth, Exeter’s residents do not want that growth to come at the expense of wildlife or their urban forest. We’re planting a combination of up to 15 different tree species to provide food and habitat for a variety of Exeter wildlife, including native fruit-bearing trees that provide winter food for Arctic migrant birds and blackthorn for the brown hairstreak butterfly.

And that’s not the only work Alcoa Foundation and American Forests are doing in England. With partner Friends of Kingfisher Country Park, we are planting 200 trees in Birmingham’s Kingfisher Country Park, a popular local recreation area, for the benefit of all its visitors — human and wildlife, alike.