Urban Tree Challenge Fund

Find out what’s involved and how to apply for funding to support the planting and establishment of large and 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 UTCF will support a number of objectives in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan and also contribute towards meeting Government’s manifesto commitment to plant one million urban trees by 2022.

The fund is available for 2 years (2019/20 and 2020/2021) and applications must be submitted during an application window. In year one, the fund is open for block bids only. Individual applicants can submit an Expression of Interest to the Forestry Commission to state their interest and receive the latest up to date information on the fund before the opening of the year 2 application window. In year 2, the fund will be open for individual applications and, dependent on budget allocation, block bids too.

Block bids allow organisations to apply for funding for multiple projects under one application, which can 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 up to 50% of published standard costs for planting large and small trees and their establishment costs. The remaining funding 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, contributing more than 50% of standard costs).

See our Expanding urban forests: The Urban Tree Challenge Fund (PDF, 1.88MB, 4 pages) leaflet for more information.

How to apply

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund is now open for block bids and closes at midnight on 28 July 2019. Expressions of Interest (EOI) for individual applications can also be received in this window.

See How it works for information on what the Urban Tree Challenge Fund supports, including information on eligibility, funding rates and project requirements. You should read all of this information before completing your application.

Submit an application

You need to submit an application form, annex and maps showing the location of the proposed planting in your application to the UTCF administrator at the Forestry Commission. Send an electronic copy of your completed application form, annex and maps to

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


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 geographically distributed, multiple maps will be required. For block bids it is suggested that each project should have its own map.

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 large trees, areas proposed for planting should be identified by highlighting the rough location and boundary where trees will be planted - for example, highlight a whole street (location subject to move, as long as it is within same street/ locality).

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 and field parcels do not need to be shown on maps, though all blocks named in the application must be shown and clearly labeled. 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, block bid name, 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)

At point of claim, you will be required to provide a more detailed map identifying the exact locations of planting.


Applications are subject to scoring. The scoring form is built into the application annex (see worksheet 1) to allow you to undertake a self-scoring exercise.

The scoring is based on three aspects:

  • Priority People
  • Priority Places
  • Value for Money (note that this is a secondary scoring that will be undertaken by the Forestry Commission)

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. Applications in a location that meets both Priority People and Priority Places will score twice. Applicants will receive a score for large tress and small trees separately and these will be assessed during the scoring and ranking process.

Value for money will also be used as a point of differentiation between comparable applications. This will be based on the direct cost of the proposal to Defra. The grant rate available per tree is a maximum of 50% of standard costs and we will not fund anything above this value. You have the option within your application form to apply for a lower intervention rate if you are able to match fund more than 50% of the standard costs, and in doing so you will improve your value for money score.

See Table 2 – 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 FC 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 follows:

Table 1 - 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 which 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 1 - 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 you 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 four 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 is selected and zoomed to
  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 as per the instructions in the User Guide

The Value for Money (VfM) score will be calculated by the Forestry Commission in cases where 2 applications have the same score.

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

Table 2 – 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 50


It is the applicants 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 AONB (as specified in Table 3 - EIA thresholds) 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
  • 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.

If you decide to appoint an agent to apply for funding on your behalf then you must complete a Forestry Commission agent authority form: non-RDPE 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.

Funding decision

Following the close of the application window, all applications will be reviewed, scored and ranked. These applications will then be assessed against each other to ensure they meet the objectives of the fund.

The objectives of the fund are to plant at least 20,000 large trees and 110,000 small trees. To ensure the funding is allocated appropriately, the Forestry Commission may need to enter into a period of negotiation with applicants of block bids to adjust the projects that will be taken forward. You must be aware that the Forestry Commission may ask you to remove some projects from your bid.

Following this negotiation period, applications will be reassessed and agreements will be issued in September to October 2019.


To ensure that proposed planting is appropriate to the site, the Forestry Commission will undertake a number of pre-agreement site visits on up to 10% of sites. The site visit 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.

Submit an Expression of Interest

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund is only open to block bids in year one. We will be open to individual applications in year 2 but will be running an Expression of Interest process during the year one application window (23 May-28 July 2019). You will be added to our contact list, which will give you early access to the latest information about the fund. This will include early notification of when the fund will re-open in year 2.

Submit an Expression of Interest using our Urban Tree Challenge Fund expression of interest form.

Make an appeal

Find out how to make a complaint or appeal.

Terms and conditions

Read the Urban Tree Challenge Fund conditions of funding (PDF, 118KB, 13 pages) .

How it works

What is funded

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund provides up to 50% funding of standard costs (see Table 4 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees) for planting large and small trees and their establishment costs for 3 years following planting. The funding supports the cost of buying a tree, planting in a grass verge, 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 three year period.

Trees are referred to as ‘Standard’, ‘Feather’ and ‘Whip’ as defined in Table 4 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees. For a further detailed breakdown of what these costs cover, please see the Urban Tree Challenge Fund application form.

The grant rate available per tree is a maximum of 50% of standard costs and we will not fund anything above this value. You have the option within your application form to apply for a lower intervention rate if you are able to match fund more than 50% of the standard costs.

Table 4 - Standard cost for items available for planting and establishing trees

Tree Type Description 100% Standard Cost (£) (planting and three years of establishment) Funding rate - 50% of Standard Cost (£)(planting and three years of establishment)
Large (standard) Trees with a clear stem up to 1.8m from ground level with a head of branches. They come in a range of sizes and age is dependent on species and growth rate. They are classified according to measurement of the circumference at 1.5m from ground level: 6-8cm STD, 8-10cm STD, 10-12cm STD, 12-14cm STD, 14-16cm STD. They can go up to as much as 30cm. Generally larger trees are selected for more vulnerable areas such as in close proximity to schools, pubs and high footfall locations, smaller ones are used in quiet suburban roads. The standard cost is based on a 14-16cm STD. £837.45 £418.73
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

The cost for large trees is based on planting using a tree pit in a grass verge. Other settings are acceptable but no additional funding will be made available. 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.

For year one Agreement Holders (2019/2020), tree planting can take place over 2 planting seasons: 2019/20 and 2020/21. The expectation is that at least 60% of planting will happen in 19/20. Once the work has been completed you will need to submit a claim form to receive payment. The year the trees are planted is year zero. This will be followed by 3 years of establishment payments. For example, if you plant in 2019/20 then establishment payments will cover work undertaken in 20/21, 21/22 and 22/23. You will be required to detail this in your application form. For year 2 Agreement Holders (2020/2021), you will only have one year to complete the work and submit a claim.

Payments will be made in 2 instalments. The first installment will cover the supply and planting of the tree, plus one year of establishment costs (watering and weeding). This will be followed by a further, final claim 2 years later for the remaining establishment costs.

Match funding

Fund recipients should provide at least 50% match funding in the form of money or labour. The maximum 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 detail the sources of funding and their value obtained to confirm you have adequate funding to deliver the project. Please see the Urban Tree Challenge Fund conditions of funding (PDF, 118KB, 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. The three years of establishment payments are paid in 2 lump sums. Payments for tree planting and the first year of establishment will be payed following receipt of a claim form following completion of the works in year one. The second instalment of establishment payments will be available 2 years later following the submission of a claim.

For Agreement Holders with 2 planting years, you can plant in 2019/20 and 2020/2021. For each planting season you must claim for the work undertaken in that financial year and you can only submit one claim per year. For example, if you undertake planting in the 2019/20 planting season, you must submit a claim no later than 31/03/2020 for all the work undertaken.

You will be required to detail your claim schedule in your application form.

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

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.

There must be a dedicated project manager and where the project manager does not have full management control over the land in the application (for example, 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 a completed Forestry Commission agent authority form: non-RDPE. This also applies to agent-lead applicant relationships.

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. 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 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 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.

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 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.

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 5.

The minimum application value is a guideline amount and exemplary applications under this threshold may be considered at the discretion of the Forestry Commission.

Table 5 - Application and planting requirements for UTCF

Thresholds Block Bids Individual Applications
Minimum application value £500,000 Where large trees are included in application: £5,000. Where only small trees are included in application: £1,150 (please note – may be subject to change)
Thresholds Large Trees (Standard) Small Trees (Feather and Whips)
Minimum application size For street trees, parkland trees (planted as specimens singly or in groups), orchard and other planting. Minimum block size of 10 standard trees. Projects can be a combination of large and small trees. Minimum block size of 150 trees at 1m x 1m spacing. Projects can be a combination of large and small trees.
Maximum application size There is no maximum number of large trees. 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 N/A Minimum spacing of 1m x 1m (please see spacing matrix in the application form annex for more information).

Species selection and spacing matrix

In seeking to avoid monocultures or over reliance on a few particular types of tree, 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 is necessarily contingent on the existing species make-up in the proposed planting location. This rule helps to build resilience into the urban forest.

For large tree planting, exotic species as well as native species are acceptable, particularly where the environment is considered hostile and vigorous growth and resilient characteristics are required.

For feather and whip planting in blocks or linear configurations, 100% native species mixes are required. 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 also a spacing matrix worksheet to support you in developing your application.

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


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 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.

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.

Contact the Forestry Commission

You can get help developing maps or completing the application form from the Forestry Commission

Published 18 May 2019
Last updated 23 May 2019 + show all updates
  1. Update to include scheme forms, rules and eligibility.
  2. First published.