Rivers and watercourses in Devon and Cornwall are part of plan to create thousands of hectares of new woodland in England to improve water quality and biodiversity.

Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith announced today (Saturday 25 September) the start of a new tree planting project spanning Cornwall to Cumbria, and the Westcountry Rivers Trust will play a part.

Speaking from a National Trust river tree planting project at the Buscot and Coleshill Estates , Lord Goldsmith said: “This is a hugely exciting and untapped area for woodland creation. The benefits of planting trees by rivers are vast – from helping biodiversity recover by creating more natural riverbanks; to slowing the flow of surface water to reduce the risk of flooding; and improving water quality by buffering rivers from harmful agricultural pollution.

“The Government is committed to trebling tree-planting rates by the end of this parliament, and in this vitally important year for tackling climate change with the Glasgow COP summit, this partnership marks an important next step in our plans to build back greener.”

As part of the Government’s England Trees Action Plan to treble tree planting rates, the ‘Woodlands for Water’ project aims to create 3,150 hectares of trees in six river catchment areas from Cornwall to Cumbria by March 2025.

In the Torridge, Taw and Caen in Devon and the Tamar and Fowey catchment spanning Devon and Cornwall (and the wider project) the aim is to benefit water and air quality and reduced flood risk.

Planting trees on and around riverbanks, or allowing them to grow naturally, can help to improve water quality by blocking the run-off of pollutants into rivers, manage flood risks by slowing the flow of water, boost biodiversity by creating new habitat corridors and make our rivers more climate resilient by providing shade and cooling water temperatures.

Our CEO Dr Laurence Couldrick said: “We are delighted to be part of the Woodlands for Water project and will be looking to increase the amount of riparian woodland buffers across some of our catchments in Cornwall and Devon.

“This important area next to the river plays a vital role, not only providing a valuable ecological corridor for species but also slowing and cleaning water as it moves though the catchment and storing carbon and nutrients. This means our rivers are healthier and the impacts of flooding are lessened.”

To support farmers and landowners to create these woodlands, they will be able to apply for funding through the ‘England Woodland Creation Offer’ grant which provides greater financial incentives for landowners and farmers to plant and manage trees, including along rivers and watercourses.

Mark Prior, South West Area Director Forestry Commission said:

“The Forestry Commission in the South West fully support the Woodlands for Water project. Woods and trees play a vital role in maintaining and bringing life to our rivers and watercourses.

“Riparian woodlands provide crucial habitat, for protected species such as bats and dormouse in the South West. Trees and woodland also help to mitigate the worst effects of flooding, slowing the flow and trapping sediment that might otherwise build up in our rivers and streams.

“We hope landowners and farmers in the South West will get behind this initiative and think about how riparian trees and woodland could benefit their farm and local communities.”

There are 242,262km of watercourses in England, and it is hoped that by planting trees in this way they will contribute to a natural network of habitats across the country as part of plans to expand, improve and connect these places across our towns, cities and countryside.

Forestry Commission Chair Sir William Worsley said: “I am delighted to be working with partners to launch the Woodlands for Water project and deliver another major part of the England Trees Action Plan.

“By putting the right trees in the right place, helped by our new England Woodland Creation Offer, the Woodlands for Water project can offer numerous benefits, from creating new woodland habitats; protecting existing habitats such as chalk streams; improving environments for fish by reducing water temperature, and helping rivers adapt to climate change.”

Supported by Defra, the project will be carried out by the ‘Riverscapes’ Partnership comprising of the Rivers Trust, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Beaver Trust, to provide expert assistance in the selected river catchment areas across England, ensuring there is pipeline of projects for riparian planting in future years.

The Rivers Trust Chief Executive Officer Mark Lloyd said: “The Riverscapes Partnership brings together leading national organisations who want to revive our rivers, restore nature and increase our resilience to droughts and floods.

“Woodlands for Water is a very exciting first project for the partnership to work with Defra to meet the government’s targets on tree planting and its commitment to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.

“By planting the right trees in the right places, we can tackle multiple problems and provide multiple benefits: more nature, less flooding, more carbon locked up in trees and soils, fewer droughts, less pollution, more wild places for people to enjoy.

“We hope that this project will be the pathfinder for a route map to the revival of rivers and their catchment areas that can benefit every corner of England, and the rest of the UK.” 

The Woodland Trust Head of Landscape Scale Delivery Dr. Adrian Southern said: “We are delighted to be part of what is an immensely important project, both from a combating climate change perspective with more trees but also for showing how it is essential they are planted in the right places.

“Tree establishment near rivers and in their catchments can have significant benefits for people and wildlife, from natural flood management to stabilising riverbanks and reducing sediment flow into water courses, to creating great places for people to enjoy.

“This commitment from DEFRA could be catalytic in supporting the Riverscapes partnership to start to really deliver the transformational change needed to meet the threats of climate change and wildlife loss.”

The National Trust Director of Land & Nature Harry Bowell said: “With 90 per cent of UK floodplains ‘not fit for purpose’ and creating flood issues for communities, we fully recognise the value of trees to our river corridors in helping to slow flood waters, soak up carbon and keep rivers cool in the face of rising temperatures.

“This work will enhance the projects we already have underway where our primary focus has been the conservation and health of the river channel itself. This partnership and funding will allow us to look at the wider river corridor to further enhance this work.”

James Wallace, Beaver Trust Chief Executive Officer said: “As members of the Riverscapes partnership with Defra we are delighted to be a part of this first big first step towards paying farmers to create a nature recovery network of mosaic habitats along our rivers, working together to breathe life back into our land.

“We hope in time farmers will be incentivised not only to plant trees but to create wetlands, floodplain meadows and other spaces for natural processes and wildlife to regenerate in riparian buffer zones.

“Collaboration between Government, industry, landowners, communities, and the NGO sector is key if we are to help communities build resilience to the climate and the ecological emergency.

“The Riverscapes partnership looks forward to helping engage the farming community, connecting landowners with each other and much-needed public money, and developing systemic solutions like blended finance, empowering rapid change in how we manage our rivers and land.”

Today’s announcement is a key action of the recently published England Trees Action Plan which outlined the Government’s strategy to get more trees in the ground that will help to deliver wide ranging benefits for nature, climate and people, and contributes towards the commitment to treble planting rates in England by the end of this Parliament.


  • The England Trees Action Plan, supported by an intended £500m from the Nature for Climate Fund, will help see an unprecedented number of trees planted, protected and managed to deliver more for society, nature, the climate and the economy.
  • From that £500 million, a series of funds will support the creation and management of woodland. This will support traditional methods of tree establishment as well as natural colonisation, agroforestry and riparian planting.
  • The project will be operating nationally on the National Trust estate and in six catchment areas across the country including: Taw and Torridge (Devon and Somerset); Tamar and Fowey (Devon and Cornwall); Bure, Glaven, Stiffkey, Wensum, Heacham, Lark, Gaywood and Wissey (Norfolk); Eden and Derwent (Cumbria); Teme (Shropshire and Worcestershire); Wye and Usk (Gloucestershire and Herefordshire)
  • Trees are able to mitigate against flooding and improve water quality through both their canopy cover and roots. They are able to slow surface water run-off and trap key pollutants, resulting in fewer flood and pollution incidents. They do this whilst also sequestering carbon making our air cleaner and combatting emissions.
  • Today’s plans to plant along England’s riverbanks will help deliver plans for a Nature Recovery Network (NRN). In the 25 Year Environment Plan, government committed to establishing a Nature Recovery Network – an expanded, improved and connected network of wildlife-rich places across the country.