Woodland natural capital accounts: 2022

Natural capital accounts containing information on ecosystem services for woodlands in the UK.

This is the latest release. View previous releases

Contact:
Email Hazel Trenbirth and Charlotte Bradley

Release date:
15 December 2022

Next release:
To be announced

1. Main points

  • The UK land area covered by woodland has increased from 9.0% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2022.

  • The asset value of UK woodlands was estimated to be £337.3 billion in 2020; while timber and woodfuel is often seen as the main woodlands asset, it accounted for 3.7% or £12.6 billion.

  • Health benefits of recreation, a newly estimated cultural service in the UK natural capital accounts, were 18.5% of the total asset value in 2020 (£62.4 billion).

  • The total annual value of woodland in the UK in 2020 was an estimated £8.7 billion, of which timber and woodfuel accounted for £372.9 million.

  • The non-market benefits of UK woodlands in 2020 were an estimated £8.3 billion, exceeding the market benefits of timber and woodfuel (£372.9 million) by approximately 22 times.

  • There were an estimated 795.8 million recreation visits to UK woodlands in 2020.

  • The estimated percentage of the UK population with a 20 hectare woodland area within four kilometres of their home in 2020 was 67%.

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As a result of changing methods and an expanding portfolio of natural services measured, this latest account cannot be compared with previous years' accounts on a like-for-like basis. The latest methods developed have been applied retrospectively in the latest accounts, giving a consistent time series.

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2. Area covered by woodland

Woodlands in the UK are tree-covered areas, including plantation forests, more natural forested areas, and lower density or smaller stands, or uniform collections, of trees.

The land area of UK woodlands in 2022 is 3.24 million hectares according to Forestry Statistics 2022 (PDF, 369KB). Scotland has the largest share (46%), followed by England (41%), Wales (10%) and Northern Ireland (4%), see Table 2.

The UK land area covered by woodland has increased from 9% in 1980 to 13% in 2022 (Table 1). Conifers account for approximately half (51%) of the UK woodland area in 2022, with just over half (56%) of these conifers privately owned. In contrast, the majority (92%) of broadleaf woodland is privately owned.

The proportion of all woodland that is publicly owned in the UK fell slightly from 28% (874,000 hectares) in 2012 to 27% (858,000 hectares) in 2022, with the proportion in private ownership rising from 72% (2,236,000 hectares) in 2012 to 73% (2,379,000 hectares) in 2022.

All of the extent statistics in this section are from the Forestry Commission's National Forest Inventory (NFI), the most current dataset for woodlands. Woodland that is over 0.5 hectares in extent and greater than 20 metres in width is included in these figures. This includes areas recently felled and expected to be replanted, and also open space within woodland.

In addition to the woodland areas in Table 1 and Table 2, the Forestry Commission estimates there are 390,000 hectares of small woods in Great Britain (non-NFI wooded areas of over 0.1 hectare in extent). There are also a further 255,000 hectares of groups of trees - clusters and linear tree features of less than 0.1 hectare in extent - as well as an estimated total canopy cover of 97,000 hectares of lone trees in Great Britain. Together, this gives a total woodland area in Great Britain of 3,719,000 hectares. Northern Ireland data come from the Woodland Register and are for all sites over 0.1 hectare, 117,671 hectares for 2022. Including small woodlands, giving a UK area of woodlands of 3.8 million hectares.

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3. Woodland condition indicators

The aim of condition indicators in the natural capital accounts is to help us to understand the relationship between ecosystem condition and the ecosystem services they deliver. The System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) definition of ecosystem condition (PDF, 605KB) is "the overall quality of an ecosystem asset in terms of its characteristics".

Figure 3 summarises the set of SEEA condition indicators and their long-term trends for a range of physical, chemical, compositional, structural and landscape condition indicators for woodlands from available data. A more detailed analysis for each condition indicator follows, including environmental pressure.

Figure 3: Summary of long-term trend for woodland condition indicators

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Physical state indicator: soil 

Soil is important in woodlands for providing a fertile topsoil for trees and plants to grow their roots in according to the Woodland Trust's Woodland Conservation News, Spring 2016 (PDF, 1425KB). The Countryside Survey for Great Britain (PDF, 5001KB) showed a decrease in soil acidity (increase in pH value, Table 1 of broadleaf woodland between 1978 and 2007), this is consistent with the decrease of acidity of soils (higher pH) across Great Britain, a benefit from sulphur emissions reductions in the 1980s. Naturally more acidic coniferous woodland shows a much smaller decrease in acidity. Soil samples as part of the Countryside Survey were only taken across Great Britain up to 2007.

Compositional indicators

Species indicators are a useful gauge of wider habitat ecological health. The woodland bat index has shown an increase of 40% between 1999 and 2020. The population of the common pipistrelle, one of the three species in the bat index, in Great Britain is considered to have increased since 1999. For more information, see the Bat Conservation Trust's National Bat Monitoring Programme, Annual Report 2020 (PDF, 6954KB).

Species indicators in decline include those for butterflies, falling to their lowest since records began in 2012, and moths, in decline since 1996. Woodland birds saw their greatest decline from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, driven by a decline in woodland birds such as willow tits, tree pipits, spotted flycatchers and lesser redpolls. For more information, see the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs' Biodiversity 2020 indicators (PDF, 4854KB).

Figure 4: Compositional woodland species for bats, bees, birds, butterflies and moths, Great Britain or UK

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National Forest Inventory - compositional and structural indicators

The National Forest Inventory (NFI) samples ecological data from over 15,000 woodland sites in Great Britain. Table 4 shows that 92% of the sample sites showed favourable for invasive species, being favourable means no invasive species were found at the site.

Statutory Plant Health Notices compositional indicator

Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN) is issued to fell trees to prevent the spread of diseases or pests. The latest Forest Research data (PDF 369,KB) includes some revisions, so we have revised our figures. These data are included as an indicator of tree health.

Landscape-level indicators - habitat connectivity

Habitat connectivity is a measure of how well different species can move between habitats in the landscape. The mean connectivity values for broadleaf, mixed and yew woodlands in England went from 0.0923 in 1990 to 0.0868 in 2007, having fallen to 0.0695 in 1998.

A different method is used in Scotland to calculate connectivity, providing statistics for river catchments. Connectivity varies considerably across Scotland and between each catchment area for semi-natural woodland (Table 7). A higher value for the Equivalent Connected Area (Probability of Connectivity) or ECA(PC), shows a greater connectivity, and is calculated as a percentage of total area of habitat in the region.

Landscape-level indicators - woodland on farmland

Woodland on farmland provides habitat connectivity for wildlife, natural flood protection and boosts biodiversity. The proportion of woodland area on total UK agricultural area increased from 1.6% in 1984 to 5.8% in 2021. For more information on the benefits of woodland on farmland, see the Forestry Commission's It's time to branch out: How woodland creation benefits your farm report (PDF, 1054KB).

Environmental pressure indicators

Some environmental pressure indicators, for example, wildfires and access, provide a broad measure of potential effects on the condition of ecosystems. As they do not provide direct measures of condition, they are classed as ancillary or proxy indicators.

Herbivore damage

Damage caused by herbivores negatively impacts the ecological condition of woodland. The NFI for Great Britain shows that the percentage of woodland area condition for herbivore damage between 2010 and 2015 was:

  • 40% unfavourable

  • 11% intermediate

  • 49% favourable

Woodland wildfires

Wildfires can be considered a pressure indicator, as most wildfires are caused by humans, intentionally or not. In Wales, it was identified between April 2018 and March 2019 that around 7 out of 10 fires on woodland, grassland and crops were started deliberately. For more information, see the Welsh Government's Grassland fires, 2018-19 statistical bulletin (PDF, 2545KB).

England

Since 2010 to 2011, the greatest number of grassland, woodland and crop wildfire incidents and area burnt occurring in woodlands in England (Figure 6) occurred between 2011 to 2012. There was a drought in the same period, with heatwave alerts in central, eastern, and southern England and in Wales. For more information, see the Home Office's Fire statistics incident level datasets.

Scotland

The peaks in woodland fires in Scottish conifer woodlands in 2010, 2013 and 2018 correspond to lower than average summer seasonal precipitation in those years. For more information, see Scottish Fire and Rescue Services (SFRS) - wildfire: incident reporting system - data analyses.

Wales

Woodland fires saw a spike in 2018 to 2019, with 132 in conifer and 49 broadleaf and hardwood woodland. In 2018, Wales saw the highest annual total duration of bright sunshine hours in the last two decades (1,543 hours), and the lowest total summer rainfall since 1995 (182.5 millimetres).

Protected sites

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are two of the strictest Protected Areas designations in the UK. Ecologists measure the condition of these sites qualitatively as: favourable (best condition) through to destroyed (worst condition). We can identify SAC's and SSSI's containing woodland and report their current measured condition.

In Wales, the number of protected woodland sites for broadleaf, mixed and yew woodland in 2020 by condition was:

  • 30 sites favourable 

  • 112 sites unfavourable 

  • 169 sites unknown

Certified woodland

Certified woodland is independently audited against the UK Woodland Assurance Standard, which promotes good forest practice. The area of certified woodland in the UK increased from 1,160 thousand hectares in March 2004 (39% of total woodland) to 1,420 thousand hectares in March 2022 (44% of total woodland).

Access to woodlands

Accessible woodland is an indicator of its ability to supply recreational services to the population. It is defined by Woodland Trust as "any site that is permissively accessible to the general public for recreational purposes" and includes sites with unrestricted access and restricted but permissive access, such as charging a fee or fixed hours.

The estimated percentage of the population with a 20 hectare woodland area within four kilometres of their home in 2020 in the UK was 67%, with the highest among the 4 nations in Scotland at 76% (Table 11). For more information, see the Woodland Trust's State of the UK's Woods and Trees 2021 report (PDF, 28682KB).

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4. Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services estimate the contribution of woodlands to the economy and society.

In 2020, the total annual value for ecosystem services we are currently able to measure was £8.7 billion (in 2021 prices). This is a partial valuation with potentially significant exclusions, such as Christmas trees, food from agroforestry and education.

We continue to improve our estimates of the economic value of the natural world. This year we have included health benefits from recreation in woodlands for the first time, with the annual valuation estimated to be £1.1 billion in 2020 (in 2021 prices).

Figure 9: Annual value for woodland ecosystem services for the UK was estimated to be £8,666 million in 2020

Ecosystem services for the UK, £ milion (2021 prices), 2020

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Figure 10: The annual value of woodland ecosystem services in England was estimated to be £5,217.8 million in 2020

Ecosystem services for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, £ million (2021 prices), 2020

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Figure 11: The total annual value of woodland in the UK in 2020 was an estimated £8.7 billion, of which timber and woodfuel accounted for £372.9 million

Value of UK woodland ecosystem services, £ million (2021 prices), 2010 to 2021

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Figure 12: Health benefits of recreation in woodlands was estimated to be £892.6 million for England for 2020

Value of woodland ecosystem services, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, £ million (2021 prices), 2010 to 2021

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Provisioning services

Provisioning services are products from nature such as food, energy, and materials.

Timber fellings (excluding woodfuel)

Between 2010 and 2021, there was a 16% increase in UK timber production (Figure 11), with 13.6 million cubic metres overbark standing timber fellings in 2021 (including woodfuel). Timber excluding woodfuel was 10,910 thousand cubic metres overbark standing in 2021.

In 2021, 62% of timber was sourced from Scotland, 22% from England, 12% from Wales and 4% from Northern Ireland. Timber production in Scotland has driven the UK trend, with production increasing by 14% between 2010 and 2021 (Figure 11).

In 2021, the annual value of timber (excluding woodfuel) in the UK reached the series high of £338.5 million.

Energy: woodfuel 

Energy from fuels created directly from plant matter or waste food are referred to as biofuels and are part of the renewable energy ecosystem service. Wood makes up a significant part of the market in biofuels in the UK, being used in domestic fires, modern pellet-burning boilers and even large electricity-generating power stations. In 2021, the generation of electricity from bioenergy, including woodfuel, accounted for 40% of renewable electricity generation. For more information, see our UK natural capital accounts: 2022 bulletin.

Since the mid-2000s, there has been an increase in the amount of timber used for woodfuel (Figure 12). Deliveries of UK-grown softwood and hardwood timber for woodfuels rose from 289 thousand cubic metres (3% of total timber) in 2000 to 2.7 million cubic metres (20% of total timber) in 2021, which represents a slight decline from the 2019 series high of 3.1 million cubic metres, or 24%.

Regulating services

Regulating services help to maintain the quality of the environment we rely upon, from the regulation of natural processes such as air quality regulation, climate regulation, and natural hazard regulation such as flood mitigation.

Carbon sequestration

Sequestering and emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs): the removal of GHGs, mostly carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere is provided by woodlands. It was greatest between 1998 to 2010 but fell back in 2011 and 2012 and returned to a similar level in 2019.

Despite levels of greenhouse gases sequestered being lower than in some previous years, the annual valuation of this service provided by woodlands increased year-on-year between 1999, when it was £3.3 billion, and 2017 when it reached £4.4 billion (Figure 13). 

This is because of increases in the non-traded carbon prices, for example emissions that are not covered by the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which are estimated to keep increasing until 2080. Consequently, the asset value of carbon sequestration by UK woodland was estimated to increase year-on-year, reaching £54.6 billion in 2017. 

The annual valuation includes the value of both forest land and the value attributed to harvested wood products. Harvested wood products also represent a net carbon sink; there is a transfer of carbon from woodland through timber removal as carbon is stored within the end product (though potentially for varying lengths of time depending on the product made). Harvested wood products accounted for 12% of the annual value of woodland in 2019 (£0.52 billion) and sequestered 2.2 million tonnes of carbon. For more information, see the Forest Research's Harvested Wood Products and Carbon Substitution: approaches to incorporating them in market standards report (PDF, 759KB)

Since the previous woodland account there have been changes in how the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) models carbon sequestration by nature, see BEIS's Mapping Carbon Emissions & Removals for the Land Use, Land-Use Change & Forestry Sector report (PDF, 4360KB). Primarily the changes have been in capturing the emissions from degraded habitats, indicating that the UK emits more greenhouse gases than it removes from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). The net carbon sequestration values presented align with the UK 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory figures for the LULUCF sector, and our UK natural capital accounts: 2022 show a negative value for all habitats for carbon sequestration.

Air pollution removal

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that air pollution contributed to 7.6% of worldwide deaths in 2016. Vegetation can play a useful role in lessening this danger by removing air pollution. Polluting gases are absorbed by leaves' stomata, and particulate matter, suspended in polluted air, settles onto leaves.

In 2020, the removal of harmful pollutants by woodland in the UK led to an estimated £995 million in avoided healthcare costs. These include avoided deaths, avoided life years lost, fewer respiratory hospital admissions and fewer cardiovascular hospital admissions.

UK woodland removed 32,800 tonnes of PM10 in 2020, including PM2.5 as a subset, 15.2 in 2020 (Figure 15). While PM2.5 removal is only 4.8% of the total mass of air pollutants removed, this leads to the majority (95.2%) of the avoided health impacts. This is because PM2.5 (fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, or 3% of the diameter of a human hair) is the most harmful pollutant by mass. PM2.5 can bypass the nose and throat to penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to potentially serious health effects and related healthcare costs. The majority of total pollution removal by mass was ground-level ozone (O3), accounting for 82% in 2020.

The asset value of air pollution removal services was an estimated £51 billion in 2020.

Flood mitigation

Forests are known to play a role in reducing flood flows, according to a review of 71 studies by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. To capture the flood regulating service for woodland in Great Britain, Forest Research examined how much it would cost to have flood water storage (that is, reservoirs) in an area where there was no woodland; they looked at the substitution costs of having no woodland. For more information on the method, see the Forest Research's Valuing flood regulation services of existing forest cover to inform natural capital accounts methodology, 2018 (PDF, 923KB), which is due to be updated in 2023.

An annual average was estimated at £235.2 million for 2020 (2021 prices) for Great Britain, and the asset valuation of this service over 100 years equated to £7,013 million. However, there are a number of caveats with this calculation.

Temperature regulation

Woodlands can also cool urban environments, avoiding labour productivity losses so benefitting the economy, and reducing the use of artificial cooling, such as air conditioning.

In 2018, Economics for the Environment Consultancy (EFTEC) and others estimated the cooling effect provided by woodlands for 11 city regions across Great Britain in Scoping UK Urban Natural Capital Accounts: Extension to develop temperature regulation estimates (PDF, 834KB).

We value the cooling effect through estimating the benefit from improved labour productivity and cost savings from air conditioning. The benefit from improved labour productivity makes up most of the value, with avoided air conditioning energy costs only accounting for a small fraction.

In 2021, the West Midlands had the greatest number of hot days; with 8.1 recorded out of a total of 42.1 experienced across the country. In the last five years, 2021 was the only year that London did not have the greatest number of hot days. "Hot days" throughout this section refers to any days equal to or between 28 degrees Celsius and 35 degrees Celsius.

Table 15 shows that the highest recently recorded avoided costs were associated with 2018, when the country also saw a notable spike in number of hot days - particularly in London.

The five-year average asset value of urban cooling provided by vegetation, which takes into consideration future projections, is £27.4 billion in 2021.

Noise reduction

Trees can also act as a buffer against noise pollution, in particular road traffic noise. Noise pollution causes adverse health outcomes through annoyance and lack of sleep. Initial estimates of the benefits of noise reduction from vegetation, which just includes woodland, was reported by EFTEC and others in 2018. Urban vegetation includes both large woodlands (greater than 3,000 square metres) and smaller woodlands (less than 3,000 square metres), but not very small woodlands (less than 200 square metres).

The total number of buildings in UK urban areas that benefitted from a reduction in noise from urban trees in 2021 was 167,000.

The total annual value of noise reduction in the UK was £16.6 million in 2021, avoided loss of quality adjusted life years (QALY) using the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra's) marginal noise damage cost values. Valuations based on QALY are economic welfare values, which look at how noise reduction affects people's social welfare.

The total UK asset value for noise reduction based on estimated future benefits over 100 years was £902 million.

Cultural

Cultural ecosystem services provide non-material benefits, such as enjoyment of the landscape, recreation in woodlands, education and cultural heritage.

Tourism, recreation and wellbeing

In 2020, there were an estimated 795.8 million recreation and tourism visits to UK woodlands. In 2019, the annual value of tourism and recreation in woodlands stood at £1.2 billion.

Recreational visits in nature are valued based on expenditure per trip, including fuel, public transport costs, admission costs and/or parking fees. For more information on these calculations, see our updated Woodland habitat, natural capital accounts, UK: 2022 methodology.

Visits to UK woodlands have generally gradually increased over the time series, with a particularly large increase of 73% between 2019 and 2020 (Table 12), driven by increases in recorded woodland visits in England (105%) and Wales (63%).

This increase is, in part, attributable to a methodological change involving a new survey for England with the data used in calculations. However, there are complementary sources showing increased numbers of people visiting woodlands and forests during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Forestry England reported that there was a 35% increase in visitors to Forestry England-managed forests in 2020 to 2021 compared with the previous year, mainly driven by repeat visits. For more information, see Forestry Commission's Key Performance Indicators report for 2020-21 (PDF, 3819KB).

Following the UK natural capital accounts earlier this year, we now include health benefits gained by the population by spending recreational time outdoors in the Woodlands accounts. Some 3.3 million people in the UK benefitted from spending time in woodland in 2020, estimated to be worth £1.1 billion in 2020. For methodological details please see our Health benefits from recreation, natural capital, UK: 2022 bulletin.

The Public Opinion of Forestry 2021: UK and England survey (PDF, 1093KB) found that 69% of respondents had visited forests or woodlands in the last few years (Table 16).

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5. Woodland asset value

The UK asset value of selected woodland ecosystem services was estimated to be £337 billion in 2020 (Table 17).

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6. Woodland natural capital accounts, UK ecosystem services data

Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: supplementary information
Dataset | Released 15 December 2022
A detailed data breakdown of financial and societal value of woodland natural resources in the UK.

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7. Glossary

Asset

Asset valuation is an estimate of the stream of services that are expected to be generated over the life of the asset. It looks at the pattern of expected future flows and the time period that the flows of values are expected to be generated.

Broadleaves

Trees that do not have needles or cones, such as oak, birch and beech. A few, such as alder, have cone-like structures for their seeds that are not true cones.

Conifers

Trees with needles and cones, such as spruce, pine and larch.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the flows of benefits that people gain from natural ecosystems. This includes provisioning services such as food and water, regulating services such as flood protection and pollution removal, and cultural services such as recreational and heritage.

Natural capital

Natural capital is a way of measuring and valuing the benefits that the natural world provides society. These benefits from natural resources include food, cleaning the air of pollution, sequestering carbon and cleaning fresh water.

Overbark

The volume of wood including the bark. Can be either standing volume or felled volume.

Woodlands

Woodlands in the UK are tree-covered areas that include plantation forests, more natural forested areas, and lower density or smaller stands of trees.

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8. Measuring the data

In this bulletin, the woodland habitat accounts are presented in four sections, which are:

  • size of the area covered by woodland (extent account)

  • indicators of the quality of the woodland ecosystem and ability to continue supplying services (condition account)

  • quantity and value of services supplied by the woodland ecosystem (physical and monetary ecosystem service flow accounts)

  • value of woodland as an asset, which represents the stream of services expected to be provided over the lifetime of the asset (monetary asset account)

The data underpinning woodlands natural capital come from a range of sources with different timeliness and coverage. This release is based on the most recent data as of November 2022.

The data sources used in this article include:

  • Bat Conservation Trust
  • British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)
  • Butterfly Conservation (BC)
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Economics for the Environment Consultancy (EFTEC)
  • Forest Research
  • Forestry Commission
  • Forestry England
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)
  • Met Office
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • NatureScot
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
  • UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI)
  • Woodland Trust

Detailed methodology on the calculations of ecosystem services can be found in our Woodland natural capital accounts methodology guide, UK: 2022.

The Office for National Statistics' (ONS') natural capital accounts are produced in partnership with Defra.

DEFRA

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9. Strengths and limitations

Data quality

The ecosystems services are experimental statistics. There is no single data source for the UK for the individual ecosystem services. They are calculated from data from the four UK nations with different availability and production periods.

Ecosystems provide a diverse range of services and not all are included in this bulletin, either owing to unavailability of data or the need for new valuation methods. We will continue to expand our reporting on such services.

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10. Methodology

Details of our methodologies for the woodlands accounts can be found in Woodland natural capital accounts methodology guide, UK: 2022. Further details on the concepts and methodologies underlying the UK natural capital accounts can be found in our Principles of Natural Capital Accounting methodology.

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12. Cite this bulletin

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 15 December 2022, ONS website, bulletin, Woodland natural capital accounts, UK: 2022

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Hazel Trenbirth and Charlotte Bradley
Natural.Capital.Team@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 1633 580051