They have developed joint proposals with Water UK to plant the trees on around 6,000 hectares of land across England, some of which is in urban areas. Alongside trees, hedgerows, grasslands and nature corridors are planned to provide wildlife habitats and improve biodiversity.
Places for the first 2.5 million of the 11 million trees have already been identified. The next priority will be to identify additional sites across England which are appropriate for tree planting or habitat restoration.
Much of the land used is owned by the water companies but they are also working with partners including local authorities, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts.
The Woodland Trust has agreed to work with all the water companies to help identify sites and manage the planting programme once it is developed. They will also investigate joining up with existing initiatives such as the National Forest and Northern Forest.
Richard Flint, chief executive of Yorkshire Water, which is helping to coordinate the project, said: "As an industry, the water sector is committed to fighting climate change through becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Our ambitious pledge announced today will go a long way to meeting that target, and will also deliver greater biodiversity, improved water quality and better flood protection.
"In recent years water companies in England have made significant contributions towards tackling some of the greatest environmental challenges that we face, and today’s announcement is just the latest example of that commitment to the environment."
So far, United Utilities has planted around 800,000 trees since 2005 and is committed to a further 440,000 over the next five years. Severn Trent has planted over 500,000 trees since 2015 and plans are in place for 250,000 trees to be planted in the next five years. In addition, Anglian Water has plans to plant a million trees, hedging plants and shrubs in urban areas, as part of a 25-year initiative.
The announcement was welcomed by the Government’s tree champion Sir William Worsley at a Countryfile Live event today, who said the companies have clearly seen the value in planting trees and acknowledged the vital role they will play in helping us to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
"Trees are carbon sinks, provide crucial habitats for precious wildlife, mitigate flood risk and provide a valuable renewable resource in timber – and I encourage other industries to follow Water UK’s excellent example to ensure we boost planting rates across the country."