Fewer schools and community groups have applied for trees this winter that could help reduce rainwater flooding compared to previous years, according to the Woodland Trust.

Some 300,000 saplings were on offer for free up to the January 8 deadline — but the take-up was down this year.

“Trees are essential in our fight against climate change,” said Woodland Trust’s Steve Shill.

“Planting trees also gets people involved in their community and brings lifetime benefits to improve mental and physical health during these dark winter months.”

Mr Shill puts the reduced demand for trees down to “the busyness of the country returning to normal after Covid”.

Packs of saplings are now on their way to schools and local groups that have applied in time, to plant in playgrounds and open spaces.

Britain needs millions more trees to reach its carbon net-zero target by 2050, the Woodland Trust estimates. Millions have been planted up and down the country over the last few years — but they are short of what is needed.

Trees are useful to absorb groundwater from excessive climate-change rainfall, to reduce flood risk, the organisation stresses.

The warning comes following flooding which wreaked havoc in London and the Home Counties since the beginning of January.

Households were forced to evacuate from low-lying areas along the upper Thames after the deluge from Storm Henk. Parts of Berkshire and Surrey remained underwater five days after the rainfall when the river burst its banks, which some experts blame on global warming.

Increasing forestry including urban areas can help absorb rainwater that can saturate the ground and even overwhelm London’s ageing sewer network.

Trees also help reduce global temperature, improve urban air quality and increase biodiversity for wildlife.

The Woodland Trust delivers hundreds of thousands of free saplings twice a year for planting in spring and autumn. The next deadline to apply is the autumn for packs of 30, 105 or 420.

Packs come in different varieties for different purposes — hedging, corpses, wildlife or wild harvest. They are paid for by businesses including Sainsbury’s, Lloyds Bank, OVO Energy, Bank of Scotland and Sofology.