Press Release

Partnering with Woodland Trust, Diocese of Leeds Responds to Church of England’s Call to Support Nature by Growing More Trees

7 March 2024

100+ acres of diocesan land could be used to support wildlife and capture carbon as part of the larger Northern Forest initiative

7 March 2024: Following last week’s successful Church of England General Synod motion to increase biodiversity on Church land, Operation Noah is highlighting a case study video featuring a new tree-growing partnership between the Diocese of Leeds and the Woodland Trust; together, the diocese and the Woodland Trust have identified over a dozen sites on 100+ acres of diocesan land with the aim of planting trees by 2025.

The diocesan tree-planting initiative is part of the larger Northern Forest project – a partnership between the Woodland Trust and community forests across the North of England. The scheme stretches from Liverpool to Hull and there are generous grants available to boost tree coverage around the north; for example, the Diocese of Leeds describes its part in the project as ‘cost neutral’ and notes that it could actually make money off of the tree-planting initiative if it were to sell carbon credits. 

The area planned for the Northern Forest is currently only 7.6% forested, while the UK as a whole is only 13% forested compared to the European average of over 40% – one of the reasons that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. 

The Diocese of Leeds owns about 700 acres of ‘glebe’ land, which in the past was used to support clergy income. Now, as well as boosting local housing, the diocese wants to use this land to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Leeds, like the rest of the Church of England, is working towards a 2030 Net Zero target which will involve cutting emissions by 90% from a 2019 baseline. Growing trees is one way to address  hard-to-cut emissions, and it is hoped that this initiative will provide a blueprint for other Anglican dioceses, especially northern ones like York, Sheffield and Manchester. 

As well as capturing emissions, woodland and hedgerows are vital habitats for beloved and endangered species in the UK. The hazel dormouse is seriously endangered and needs deciduous woodland for food and shelter, while yellowhammer birds typically nest in hedgerows on farmland. Habitat loss has contributed to a recent population decline, with yellowhammers now listed ‘Red’ on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern List.

Operation Noah’s 2022 Church Land and the Climate Crisis report recommends three key ways that Church land can be used to address the climate crisis: growing trees, protecting peatland and supporting tenant farmers to reduce agricultural emissions. 

From our Case Study on the Diocese of Leeds and Woodland Trust Partnership: 

Nick Sellwood, Northern Forest Programme Director: ‘We’ve got woodland advisors across the UK who are all locally based, know their local networks and bring really deep knowledge of trees and woodlands and can work with your teams wherever they are in the UK to look at your ambitions for more trees and woodlands. At the same time, we can signpost other dioceses to a whole range of other grant offers that are available at the moment. This is probably one of the best times in many decades in terms of the funding available from the government in particular for tree planting.’

Jemima Parker, Diocese of Leeds Environment Officer: ‘We have a 2030 Net Zero target: we’re striving to cut our carbon footprint in line with the national Church’s 2030 Net Zero objective. We’re really conscious of the climate justice issues and the way in which we need to show leadership in this area, both for our love and care of our global and local neighbours, as well as for our care of creation more widely.’

Sharon Hall, Campaign Officer at Operation Noah: ‘This is a great example of a triple-win for climate, nature and people who benefit from the enhanced environment. The Diocese of Leeds is looking creatively at the land they have to steward and they have found an experienced partner in the Woodland Trust. We’d love to see more landowners seeking to grow more trees, protect peatland and reduce emissions from farming. These are positive ways to address the climate crisis, alongside making vital cuts to emissions from fossil fuels.’

Operation Noah is a Christian charity working with the Church to inspire action on the climate crisis. We work with Churches of all denominations, particularly through our Bright Now campaign, which encourages faith groups to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions. The Bright Now campaign is also working with Churches on large-scale, nature-based solutions, from increasing tree cover to other environmentally-sensitive ways of managing land (

Media Contacts: 
Cameron Conant, Communications Officer, Operation Noah,  
Sharon Hall, Campaign Manager, 

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