Client Story


Monitoring and evaluating the impact of England’s most ambitious tree planting programme

Trees are at the forefront of the UK Government’s plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This plan will help to bend the curve of biodiversity loss, improve the environment, create thousands of green jobs and connect people with nature.

The Government has committed to treble tree planting rates in England by the end of this Parliament (2025). In its net zero Strategy, the Government announced a total spend of circa £675 million on woodland creation and management by 2025.

But planting the right trees in the right place at the scale required to make a positive environmental impact requires strong monitoring and evaluation (M&E).

Our M&E experts worked with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to bring clarity to this challenge. Together we created a best-practice M&E framework for the department’s £675 million Tree Planting Programme.

The new framework enables Defra to accurately assess the impact of multiple activities across the programme’s network and gives comprehensive performance indicators and targets, making it a powerful tool for monitoring programme delivery. Best-practice monitoring and evaluation like this provides robust evidence to demonstrate programme impact and value for money.

Our work will enable Defra to make a stronger case for funding to plant even more trees to support the UK’s journey to net zero.

Key successes

  • Designed a new M&E framework to provide robust evidence of programme impact
  • Leveraged our monitoring & evaluation (M&E) expertise to track England’s most ambitious tree planting programme ever
  • Unravelled complex links between short-term interventions and long-term outcomes to guide focus and prioritisation
  • Used expertise in Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to organise planting data and enable more accurate location monitoring of newly planted trees

Mapping the road to net zero

Trees’ ability to absorb and lock away carbon means they will play a vital role in enabling the UK to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. So, as part of its Nature for Climate (NFC) Fund, Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’s (Defra) Tree Planting Programme aims to create and expand woodlands across England at a rate of at least 7,500 hectares a year up to 2025 – the highest rate ever achieved. The programme will have myriad benefits. These include improving biodiversity, supporting flood risk mitigation, increasing public access to woodlands and driving social and economic development.

But like every government department, Defra must demonstrate that it is delivering value for money.

Through the programme, we are spending over £600 million in public money. So, we need robust evidence to show we are delivering against policy goals. Being able to do this will enhance our ability to secure future Government support. We also need accurate insights to understand where to commit spending for maximum impact.”
Head of strategy, engagement and analysis in Defra’s Trees & Forestry division

Laying the roots: building the right team

To meet the challenge, our team worked closely with Defra on a new framework to track the impact of the NFC Tree Planting Programme. We brought deep expertise in monitoring and evaluation (M&E), including M&E support for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s £1.2 billion Prosperity Fund. Alongside this, our experts brought knowledge of technology solutions such as Geographic Information System (GIS) to deliver deeper insights. Our wide experience and understanding of working with government and the public sector complemented our team’s M&E and technology expertise.

Planting the seeds: testing assumptions to find solutions

The first challenge was to gain clarity on how short-term delivery activities would influence long-term programme outcomes and impact. For example, how do activities such as securing the supply of saplings or setting up incentive payments for planting on private land enable delivery of bigger goals such as increasing carbon sequestration or improving biodiversity?

Through workshops with the programme team and its network of delivery partners, the joint team explored a complex web of programme interventions and their intended outcomes, and tested assumptions about how they were linked. Working with Defra, we unravelled this complexity to produce a clear ‘theory of change’ model to serve as a strong foundation for effective monitoring and evaluation.

By organising analysis by theme, our team highlighted dependencies between individual projects. This helped break down silos and ensure all activities were aligned with big-picture programme goals.

Pruning the edges: measuring benefit delivery

The second step involved creating a KPI framework for the programme. Our team proposed over 90 different indicators to measure delivery of benefits, and milestones for programme activities and show whether delivery was on track.

We also leveraged our expertise in GIS technology to show how this could deliver new, more detailed data on where trees are being planted (including by local authority area and by areas of high flood risk). This will help ensure the right trees are being planted in the right place.

The final part of our support involved working with Defra to design an evaluation approach for the mid-term and final evaluation of the NFC Tree Planting Programme. This incorporated best practice approaches from the Magenta Book, the Treasury guidance on monitoring and evaluation for all government departments.

We had been working closely with PA, using their expertise in monitoring and evaluation that, we had a real sense of owning the new framework. We were confident about the approach for applying it in practice.”
Senior Research Officer, Defra

Reaping the rewards: using data to inform key decisions

The new monitoring and evaluation framework gives Defra a powerful tool for maximising the impact of the NFC Tree Planting Programme. Clarity on the link between inputs and outcomes, and data on performance against key indicators will inform decisions on where to focus spend and which interventions to prioritise.

Above all effective monitoring and evaluation helps to ensure that the millions of trees being planted through the NFC Tree Planting Programme will have the impact they are meant to. That means helping the UK combat climate change by increasing carbon sequestration, improving the number of species thriving in the natural environment and making it easier for people across England to enjoy access to beautiful woodlands.

The framework we co-developed with PA brings together in one place the data we need to make the right decisions to drive the programme forward.”
Head of strategy, engagement and analysis in Defra’s Trees & Forestry division

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