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New Tree Equity Score tool shows the connection between trees and health inequalities

Sarah Jordan and Una Devlin of Sustainable Health Care discuss the launch of Tree Equity Score in the UK, and how this new tool can help plant trees in the places most in need of the health boosts that come from nature

December 2023

Trees save lives by providing significant benefits for health and wellbeing, but trees are not fairly distributed. The Tree Equity Score UK is a new online interactive map which shows for the first time the disparities in urban tree cover across the UK. Importantly, it shines a light on how less affluent areas have fewer trees and are missing out on essential health benefits like cleaner air and cooler temperatures in summer.

What is the Tree Equity Score?

The UK Tree Equity Score was created through a partnership between American Forests, the US non-profit organisation that created Tree Equity Score, The Woodland Trust and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH). It uses new tree canopy datasets from Google, as well as six other datasets relating to climate, UK health and socioeconomics, to provide the most accurate picture of Tree Equity in the UK.

It is a data-driven, evidence-based tool utilising pioneering methods developed by American Forests. It generates a score out of 100 for nearly all urban neighbourhoods in the UK, providing a rating of Tree Equity. The lower the score, the greater the need to prioritise tree canopy cover in that neighbourhood. A score of less than 100 means there is still work to be done. A score of 100 means the neighbourhood has met the standard for proper urban tree canopy and has achieved Tree Equity. However, even with a score of 100 trees still need to be maintained, cared for and made accessible and usable by the community.

Every community deserves equitable access to the health and wellbeing benefits of trees

Trees have been consistently shown to have a positive impact on health and to reduce the need for healthcare interventions which in turn support a more financially and environmentally sustainable healthcare model. Having a view of trees has even been shown to reduce recovery time and the need for painkillers after an operation.

Trees are linked to:

The Tree Equity Score tool shows that having trees in your neighbourhood is tightly linked to issues of health equity. In fact, analysis from the tool shows that neighbourhoods with the highest income levels have more than double the tree cover per person than less affluent neighbourhoods and have nearly 20% less of the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Poor air quality has been described by Public Health England as “the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK.” Failure to plant trees in areas of low tree cover is a failure to meet the health needs of those communities. Furthermore, a report in Nature showed that the benefits of trees can have an even greater effect on those living in higher levels of deprivation, meaning they can help to directly tackle health inequalities.

“Successive lockdowns have reinforced to all of us the importance of access to green spaces. 12% of people in the UK faced the pandemic with no outdoor space to call their own, this figure rose to 24% of all people in Greater London, and 41% of BAME Londoners.” says GP Dr Richard Claxton. “Shinrin Yoku (Forest Bathing) trials in Japan demonstrate reduction in blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels within one hour, and increased natural killer (cancer surveillance) cells in the bloodstream. These benefits can last for up to four weeks.”

Transforming health and communities through data

The Tree Equity Score tool is for everyone from individuals to large organisations and governments. It will enable decision makers to address health inequalities by planting the right trees in the right place to have the greatest benefits to those who need it most. At CSH we work with healthcare professionals and the wider public to help develop the knowledge, skills and tools people need to play their part in the transformation to sustainable healthcare. We particularly want healthcare sites in the UK to embrace the Tree Equity Score, both to benefit their own communities and to help drive national policy around tree planting and tree equity. We know that trees have a huge positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and healthcare providers are uniquely placed to champion access to these benefits. From individuals through to anchor institutions such as the NHS, Tree Equity Score can be used at any scale to help get trees where they’re needed most and reduce health inequalities.

We are starting to work with healthcare sites to use Tree Equity Score to determine where trees should be planted on their own sites to have the greatest benefit for communities. We will also use the tool to determine our own tree planting as we have 150,000 trees to plant on healthcare sites over the next 2 years. Tree Equity Score will enable us to plan where to plant these trees for the greatest impact.

To find out your neighbourhood's Tree Equity Score, visit:

Sarah Jordan is Green Space for Health Director at Sustainable Health Care
Una Devlin is Green Space for Health Communications, Marketing & Engagement Lead at at Sustainable Health Care

Follow on Twitter: @SusHealthcare @NHSForest @WoodlandTrust @AmericanForests

The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.