London's growing inequality, mapped

Social housing in Southwark; the Shard. Image: Getty.

So here's some depressing, if unsurprising, news to start the week: according to new analysis of census data, London is vastly more unequal now than it was in the 1980s.

New research from LondonMapper, a project run by the University of Oxford and funded by the Trust for London, shows that the proportions of "poor" and "wealthy" households have each increased by 80 per cent in the city over the last 30 years. Over the same period, the proportion of middle-income houses has dropped by 43 per cent.

Here's the ratio between the three types of households in 1980 and then in 2010:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

It's not just London, either: the same effect is taking hold across England, although elsewhere the change is a little less dramatic. Over the last three decades, the proportions of poor and wealthy households have increased by 60 per cent and 33 per cent apiece across the country, while the share of middle-income households has dropped by 27 per cent:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

It's worth noting that the number of poor households quoted is probably an underestimate: the researchers used calculations released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2007, before the financial crash and the current round of public spending cuts. 

The team also created maps showing where the changes are occurring, within London and across England. The researchers have used distortion maps to demonstrate this: the bigger the region is shown, the bigger the change it's undergone. On some of the graphics this means that larger areas have seen a larger increase; on others, it means a larger decline. 

These ones show the rise in poor and wealthy households, and the fall in middle-income households:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

As you can see, the disappearance of middle households is overwhelmingly in London, where polarisation is most dramatic.

They also broke down the stats to borough level. First, a reference map showing London's boroughs re-sized according to their number of households:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

The increase in wealthy households has mainly occurred in central and west London, with the largest increase in Richmond (32 per cent):

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

While the increase in poor households is concentrated in the east:

Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

The largest poverty rise was in Newham, where researchers estimated that almost one in two households are now classified as poor. 

The proportion of households classified as middle-income dropped by most in the outer boroughs: 


Click for a larger image. Source: LondonMapper. 

You can see more of the data, including figures for 2000, using LondonMapper's interactive tool here


Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.

Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.