Guidance

Urban Tree Challenge Fund

Find out what’s involved and how to apply for funding to support the planting and establishment of small trees in urban and peri-urban areas in England.

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund (UTCF) has been developed in response to HM Treasury releasing £10 million in the 2018 Autumn Budget announcement for planting at least 20,000 large trees and 110,000 small trees in urban areas in England.

The application window for 2020/2021 is now closed.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The situation around coronavirus is rapidly changing and we appreciate the uncertainty this creates.

As Round 2 is partly targeted at community and volunteer groups, we ask you adhere to government guidelines and do not meet in person to discuss your application.

The successful applicants of Round 2 will not be expected to plant their trees until the next tree planting season (winter 2020/21), and it is our hope that COVID-19 will not impact on tree planting activity. However, due to the group nature of this activity, we will reassess this in the future to follow government guidelines.

In Round 1, the fund was open for block bids only and due to its success, the large tree allocation has now been fully committed. In Round 2, the fund is open for individual applications only and for small tree planting only. In Round 1, block bids allowed organisations to apply for funding for multiple projects under one application, which could be geographically dispersed across England or focused in a local area. Individual applications are aimed at smaller organisations or community groups who are looking to deliver much smaller scale projects.

The UTCF is open to anyone who wants to plant trees in urban or peri-urban areas, as long as you have full management control or consent to use the land for the duration of your agreement and your planting location is within an urban area.

The fund provides 50% of published standard costs for planting and establishment. The remaining costs of planting and establishing trees supported under the UTCF must be met through match funding, either in the form of money or labour.

The UTCF is a competitive fund and your application will be scored and ranked to identify projects that will provide the greatest environmental and social benefits to an area. Value for money may also be taken into account, with additional points being awarded where applications demonstrate this (for example, by containing a higher number of trees relative to competing applications).

For an overview of the fund, see the Expanding urban forests: The Urban Tree Challenge Fund (PDF, 1.29MB, 4 pages) leaflet.

Find out if you’re eligible

Who can apply?

Anyone is able to apply for the Urban Tree Challenge Fund (UTCF), as long as you either have full management control over the land or signed consent from those with management control over the land for the duration of the Agreement. Agents are also able to apply on behalf of an organisation or landowner. Any individual or organisation can submit up to 5 distinct applications to the UTCF in Round 2, each of which can contain up to 3 planting sites or projects. Multiple applications from the same applicant will be ranked and scored independently from one another.

Where the applicant does not have full management control over the land in the application (for example, the applicant is a tenant, trustee, joint owner or representative of a group of adjoining owners), we will require written permission from all parties with management control over the land before an agreement can be issued. This should come in the form of countersignatures on the application form.

Land submitted in an UTCF application does not need to be registered on the Rural Land Register and applicants do not need to have Single Business Identifier (SBI). However, if you do have an SBI, it must be provided in the application form.

Eligible land

Land included in a UTCF application must fall within an urban area. An urban area, as defined for the purposes of the UTCF, is a built up area (based on Office of National Statistics data) with a population of at least 2,000 people, with a buffer of 1km to account for peri-urban planting. This can be identified on the Forestry Commission map browser using the ‘UTCF Trees Close to People’ layer located in the Targeting and Scoring list of map layers. You must confirm in your application that your land falls entirely within this map layer.

Work that is not eligible

This fund cannot be used to support the planting of trees required under a planning consent or restocking condition or as part of a tenancy agreement. Where there are obligations in a tenancy to carry out environmental management on the land, you must supply a copy of your tenancy agreement to the Forestry Commission to confirm that funding under UTCF will not be used to undertake these activities.

In addition, the fund cannot be used to support the replacement of trees. Checks may be undertaken to confirm that trees have not been in a proposed project location for at least 3 years.

Public access

Urban and peri-urban planting will require public access unless there is a strong rationale against this, such as planting on school grounds. You will be required to detail this in your application.

Public access means that the public should at least be able to see the trees planted. Where they are part of a larger planting scheme, paths should be considered too (within the woodland to maximise public benefits). If the planting is of sufficient scale then it may be appropriate to formalise the level of access by dedicating the woodland for access in perpetuity (CROW 2000) or by creating a new public right of way.

Basic Payment Scheme and UTCF

Although it is unlikely that projects will be undertaken on areas that currently receive payments from the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) under the CAP, there is potential for this to occur. If you currently receive BPS payments then you will need to discuss this with the Forestry Commission and the RPA to identify if your project will be eligible to continue to receive these payments if you enter into a UTCF Agreement. This will be explored on a case-by-case basis.

How to apply

Submit an application

The application window for Round 2 is now closed. We are not accepting any new applications.

Instructions on filling in the annex are within the document. You can also watch a demonstration of how to fill in the annex in this webinar. The webinar also includes information on eligibility and on what can be funded. Please contact UTCF@forestrycommission.gov.uk if you have any questions.

You must not undertake any planting or ground preparation detailed in your application form until you have a signed agreement with the Forestry Commission in place.

How it works

What is funded

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund provides 50% funding of standard costs (see ‘Table 1 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees’ below) for planting small trees and their establishment costs for 3 years following planting. The funding supports the cost of buying a tree, planting in grass, soil or leaf litter, the cost of basic protection and the labour required to plant it.

Establishment payments support the cost of weeding, watering and checking trees during multiple visits over a 3 year period.

Trees are referred to as ‘feather’ and ‘whip’ as defined in ‘Table 1 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees’ below.

The grant rate available per tree is of 50% of standard costs and we will not fund anything above this value.

Table 1 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees

Tree Type Description 100% Standard Cost (£) (planting and 3 years of establishment) Funding rate - 50% of Standard Cost (£)(planting and 3 years of establishment)
Small (feather) Small trees that have a central stem with some side branches and are usually between 150cm and 175cm in height. They are usually between 4 to 6 years old depending on species and growth rate. Feathers are suitable for planting singly, in small groups or stands in school grounds, parks, woodland, wider highway verges and informal open space. £3.79 £1.90
Small (whip) Whips are very small single stem plants with little or no side shoots, usually just about a year in age. They are usually between 100cm to 125cm in height. Whips are suitable for planting in larger groups or blocks to create a feature, extend existing woodland and create impact in school grounds, parks, wider highway verges and informal open space. £2.29 £1.15

Protection measures including the type of guard used must be appropriate for the planting location, but anything above those listed in the standard costs table will have to be funded separately as part of the match funding. You will be required to detail this information in the application form annex.

Once the work has been completed, you will need to submit a claim form to receive payment.

Payments will be made in 4 instalments. The first instalment will cover the supply and planting of the tree. This will be followed by 3 further annual claims for the remaining establishment costs.

Match funding

Fund recipients must provide 50% match funding in the form of money or labour. The funding rate has been calculated based on paying a 50% contribution towards the standard cost of a given item and the cost of establishment, such as weeding and watering. Where labour is used as match funding, this must be converted into a monetary value to be included in your application. You will be required to confirm that you have adequate match funding in place to deliver the project. Please see the Urban Tree Challenge Fund conditions of funding (PDF, 223KB, 13 pages) for further details on what can be included in match funding.

Scheduling of payments

The UTCF provides capital payments for tree planting, followed by 3 years of establishment payments. Payments for tree planting will be paid following receipt of a claim form after completion of the planting works. Some claims will be selected for an inspection and, where this is the case, payment will not be made until after a satisfactory inspection. Three establishment payments will be available annually following the submission of a claim.

Round 2 agreement holders will only have one available planting season in which to complete planting: winter 2020/2021. All Round 2 planting must have been completed and claimed for by 31 March 2021. No amendments into future years will be accepted for Round 2 agreement holders.

Application and planting requirements

The Urban Tree Challenge has a number of thresholds and requirements that must be met to be eligible for funding. These are outlined in Table 2:

Table 2 - Application and planting requirements for UTCF

Thresholds Small Trees (feather and whips)
Minimum application size Minimum block size of 150 trees at 1m x 1m spacing.
Maximum application size There is a maximum block size of 0.5ha to ensure there is no direct competition with other grants and reduce the need to undertake an EIA (unless in sensitive area) or add to the public register. For example, you must not exceed a planting block of 5,000 trees at 1m x 1m spacing.
Spacing Minimum spacing of 1m x 1m (please see spacing matrix in the application form annex for more information).

Species selection and spacing matrix

To ensure that a good mix of trees are included, urban foresters frequently apply the ‘10, 20, 30 Rule’. This rule states that the target for an urban tree population should be to have no more than 10% of a particular species, no more than 20% of a particular genus and no more than 30% of a particular family. Application of this rule must take into consideration the existing species present in the proposed planting location. This rule helps to build resilience into the urban forest.

For feather and whip planting in blocks or linear configurations, native or non-native mixes can be planted. A suggested list of species for feather and whip planting can be found in the Species List worksheet of the application form annex. In addition to this, there is a spacing matrix worksheet to help you plan the tree numbers in your application.

Further guidance and information is available in The Urban Tree Manual.

Consents

It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure all relevant consents are in place prior to planting taking place.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)

Due to the thresholds within the Urban Tree Challenge Fund, we will not accept blocks of planting larger than 0.5 hectares (ha) (for example, a block of 5,000 trees at 1m x 1m spacing). This means the majority of applications received will sit below the EIA threshold and will not require screening for potential environmental impacts.

However, if a project is located in a sensitive area* that is not a National Park or Area of Natural Beauty (as specified in ‘Table 3 - EIA thresholds’ below) then it may be subject to EIA Regulations and will have to undergo screening.

Table 3 - EIA thresholds

Project size (ha) Land type - sensitivity EIA requirement
0ha – 2ha A sensitive area* but not a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Full EIA screening
0ha – 2ha Everywhere else No EIA screening
2ha – 5ha Any sensitive area Full EIA screening
2ha – 5ha Everywhere else (Prior) basic notification
5ha – 50ha Only in a low risk area (Prior) full notification
5ha – 50ha Everywhere else Full EIA screening
> 50ha Everywhere else Full EIA screening

*sensitive area:

  • A European site under the Habitats and Species Regulations
  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
  • Local Nature Reserve, as defined by local authorities
  • National Nature Reserve
  • National Park
  • Ramsar site
  • Scheduled Monument
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • The Broads
  • World Heritage Site

If your project falls within a sensitive area then you will need to submit a separate EIA afforestation enquiry form.

Archaeology and landscape

While rare in urban locations, it may be that some tree planting takes place in areas of archaeological significance or landscape importance, or both. The applicant is expected to ensure they are aware of any restrictions in place on the locations they have chosen and they comply with the relevant authority’s requirements (for example, Historic England or Natural England). Applicants are also required to inform the Forestry Commission of these special circumstances so it can undertake the necessary consultations.

If you decide to appoint an agent to apply for funding on your behalf then you must complete a Forestry Commission agent authority form to give your consent. This is not the same form that you would complete to appoint an agent to apply for Countryside Stewardship: woodland support.

Biosecurity

Following good biosecurity practices is critical for preventing the introduction of pests and diseases. You must follow best practice guidance when undertaking works for the UTCF.

Planting design

The planting should be adequately considered and designed so that it is suitable for the location that trees are being planted. The Urban Tree Manual sets out the basic principles that should be considered when developing a planting plan. Expert advice should also be sought and followed to ensure that the correct approach is used when planting in urban trees, particularly in relation to street tree planting where utility apparatus and highway regulations require special consideration. When planting on street and in park locations, the local authority tree officer must be consulted prior to making an application.

Maps

You must submit a map with your application, identifying the areas proposed for planting. Maps should be produced at a scale of 1:1,250. Where application areas are in more than one geographical area, a map for each will be required.

We encourage you to produce maps using GIS data shape files and submit these. However, we will accept paper maps where necessary. If you require a paper map for your application, we can provide one free of charge for your application through our map request service. Please specify on the map request form that you require the scale to be 1:1,250.

For small trees, the location of each block must be highlighted, including a boundary to identify the area that will be planted.

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund is not part of the Rural Development Programme and, as such, land owners and applicants do not need to register the land on the RLR (Rural Land Register) and field parcels do not need to be shown on maps, though all blocks named in the application must be shown and clearly labelled. These should be recorded in the annex to enable easy identification of blocks and projects.

Maps should also contain the following details:

  • appropriate title (for example, name of organisation or lead applicant, project reference)
  • a 6-figure OS grid reference for the centre of the map (2 letters and 6 numbers, such as AB123456)
  • map number (1, 2, 3, etc). Include this map number and also the total number of maps (for example, 1 of 3)

Scoring

Applications are subject to scoring. A self-scoring form is built into the application annex.

The self-scoring is based on 2 criteria:

  • Priority People – this is where the planting locations have been identified in an area of deprivation
  • Priority Places – this is where planting locations have been identified in an area of low tree canopy cover

Your application will also be given a Value for Money score by the Forestry Commission. Applications with higher numbers of trees are likely to achieve a higher Value for Money score. The Forestry Commission will also score your application out of 5 for each of the following benefits, which you are asked to describe in relation to your projects in the application form:

  • Social and community (for example, planting undertaken by volunteers)
  • Recreation and health (for example, planting in more deprived areas)
  • Education (for example, planting in or around schools with school/youth involvement)
  • Landscape (for example, planting in public parks/gardens and areas of very low canopy cover)

Self-scoring should be carried out for each project within an application and you must use the scoring layers available on the Forestry Commission map browser to identify your score. The scoring layers, located in the Targeting and Scoring list of map layers, are:

  • UTCF – Priority People
  • UTCF – Priority Places

Points will be awarded based on the proportion of trees in the total application that are within the Priority People layer and Priority Places layer. Priority People and Priority Places are evenly weighted, with the same number of points available for each.

See Table 5 – Maximum points available for scoring your application for scoring values available to your application.

Priority People is based upon the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and shows areas that are in the top 40% (the most deprived areas in England). Your project will receive a score if it is within or touches the Priority People layer. You will be required to state ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for each project to identify if it is within or touching the Priority People layer and the application annex will calculate an overall score for the whole application based on these answers. Projects that are not within this layer will still be accepted in an application but will not score.

Priority Places will also be based on a mapping layer available on the Forestry Commission map browser. This layer is a ‘low canopy cover’ dataset that identifies tree canopy cover in built up areas. Applicants will need to assess each project and identify whether the project is within the data layer and classed as ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘not applicable’. These values reflect tree canopy cover for targeted areas as shown in Table 4:

Table 4 - Tree Canopy Cover values for UTCF Priority Places map layer

Tree Canopy Cover Category Average canopy Cover
Low 0-9% average canopy cover
Medium 10-20% average canopy cover
High 20%+ average canopy cover
Not applicable outside of the targeting layer

Applicants will receive more points where there is lower tree canopy cover in their project. Where a project sits across 2 values of the targeting layer (for example, low and medium), you can select the lower value in your application, which will receive a higher score.

Areas that are not within this layer will still be accepted in an application but will not score.

The UTCF Priority Places layer applies an average value of tree canopy cover across relatively large areas. Where you believe your specific project area has a different tree canopy cover to the value shown on the targeting layer, we will accept a different value that has been generated by any of the following methods:

You will be required to convert your score into the categories ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ using the values detailed in ‘Table 4 - Tree Canopy Cover values for UTCF Priority Places map layer’. You will still only receive a score where your project location is within the targeting layer boundary of the UTCF – Priority Places. Areas outside of this will not receive a score, regardless of tree canopy cover value.

If you choose to use one of the above methods, you must provide adequate evidence with your application to illustrate how you reached your final score value.

Evidence of a local assessment of urban tree canopy cover should be from a recognised dataset, such as Blueskies National Tree Map or Proximitree, copies of the relevant section of a report quoting these, or determined using a recognised surveying approach such as i-Tree Eco or i-Tree Canopy.

For i-Tree Eco, copies of the relevant results from the formal report will suffice. For i-Tree Canopy, one of 4 forms of evidence are adequate:

  1. copy of the pertinent page from a formal report listing i-Tree Canopy results
  2. a screen-grab of the canopy cover as reported on the Canopy cover map (where available and ensuring that only the appropriate Wards are selected and zoomed in on)
  3. the .dat or .csv file from an i-Tree Canopy assessment of the chosen areas
  4. a screen-grab of the result of an i-Tree Canopy assessment as conducted using the Forest Research User Guide. Please also submit the result of your assessment to canopycover@forestresearch.gov.uk as per the instructions in the User Guide

The Value for Money (VfM) score will be calculated by the Forestry Commission after the application window has closed.

The scoring threshold will be dependent on budget and will be set once all applications have been received and reviewed.

Table 5 – Maximum points available for scoring your application

Priority People Points Available
Yes 100
No 0
Priority Places Points Available
Low 100
Medium 50
High 0
Not applicable 0
Value for Money Points Available
Greater VfM than other applications 30

Funding decision

All applications received within the application window will be reviewed, scored and ranked. These applications will then be assessed against each other to ensure they meet the objectives of the fund. We expect to issue funding decisions from August 2020 for Round 2.

Inspections

To ensure that proposed planting is appropriate to the site, the Forestry Commission will undertake pre-agreement site visits. The site visits will assess the suitability of proposed planting to the site and ensure there are no trees present already or evidence of trees being there in the past 3 years. This will be carried out before agreements are awarded.

Further inspections will be carried out on a selection of planting sites following receipt of claims. Once inspections have been completed, payments will be made to Agreement Holders.

Terms and conditions

Read the Urban Tree Challenge Fund conditions of funding (PDF, 223KB, 13 pages).

Advice and best practice

The Forestry Commission will not provide technical advice for your application. It is up to you to source expert advice from a competent person to ensure your planting proposal meets best practice. We suggest you follow the best practice advice found in the Urban Tree Manual.

We consider experts to include persons with membership to a professional body. Examples of this can include, but are not limited to:

  • Institute of Chartered Foresters
  • Arboricultural Association
  • London Tree Officer’s Association
  • Municipal Tree Officers Association
  • National Association of Tree Officers

Contact the Forestry Commission

You can get help from the Forestry Commission by emailing UTCF@forestrycommission.gov.uk.

Make an appeal

Find out how to make a complaint or appeal.

Published 18 May 2019
Last updated 19 May 2020 + show all updates
  1. The application window for Round 2 of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund has been extended to 30 June 2020.

  2. This page has been updated to say that the application window for Round 2 is open from 30 March 2020 to 31 May 2020.

  3. This page has been updated with information about Round 2 of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund.

  4. Updates to the scheme arrangements for round 2.

  5. Update to reflect the end of year one applications.

  6. Grant details updated following the closure of the year 1 application window on 31 August 2019.

  7. Update on application date extension and lowering minimum value for block bids.

  8. This page has been updated with information on species selection (under the 'Species selection and spacing matrix' heading) and the minimum application value (under the 'Application and planting requirements' heading).

  9. Update to include scheme forms, rules and eligibility.

  10. First published.