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Lewis Morrison, Head of Major Tree Planting Programmes at The Tree Council, updates on the over 40,000 trees that have been planted so far alongside communities thanks to funding from Network Rail

Creating community-led tree planting projects

As Britain’s fourth largest landowner, Network Rail has the challenge of managing the trees across its hugely varied estate, including 20,000 miles of rail line. Recognising that more could be done to help people and trees, in 2020 Network Rail made the ground-breaking commitment to provide £1 million funding to plant thousands of trees within communities across the UK. The Tree Council teamed up with Network Rail to deliver this ambitious community planting programme.

During early 2020 The Tree Council worked to identify viable community planting schemes which could benefit from this funding, and by the middle of the year a first ‘cohort’ of community partners was identified, and work began on tree planting plans for the 2020/21 planting season.

Many of these community opportunities came to our attention from parish councils, local authorities and other organisations, such as local environmental charities. We also worked closely with many of our volunteer Tree Wardens, wise folk out there with an understanding of the need and potential to plant trees in their local communities.

We worked with all the partners on every element of the projects from the site design planning, costing and procurement to delivery. The first trees were planted by the end of November 2020, a fantastic way to mark National Tree Week.

Achieving our goals in spite of the challenges

Network Rail set a key target of at least 20,000 trees planted by 24th December 2020 – we smashed that target by 8,000 trees, with 28,000 trees at least planted by Christmas. A total of around 70-80,000 trees will be planted by the end of this planting season.

There were huge challenges – a shortened time frame, meaning planning, applications and procurement was squeezed into 5 months, and of course the huge challenge of Covid-19 and the interruptions it brought to community participation, supply of trees and materials, and the ability of Tree Wardens and others to get out and plant.

Working with Tree Wardens

Despite these challenges year one of the programme is already a resounding success, not least due to the determination, passion, knowledge and commitment of Tree Wardens, who designed some fantastic projects that will be a precious resource to their communities for years to come.

  • Dick Walters of Eastleigh Tree Wardens had a vision to enhance a new burial ground in Hound parish, Hampshire, with trees and hedges, a truly beautiful symbol of the continuity of life.
  • Mike Wadham and TWIG 30,000 in Tendring Essex, Britain’s driest district, will see over 30,000 trees planted across one of the most denuded landscapes in southern Britain.
  • Andrew, Trish and Sheridan in South Harting, nestled deep in the South Downs AONB, have made it their mission to ‘rescue and restore’ an ancient woodland devastated by ash die back and consequent felling.

Many Tree Wardens also participated in the 30 Elms campaign, which has seen over 30 disease-resistant Elm planted across the country, bringing one of our dearest loved and hugely missed climax trees back into the landscape.

Over the course of the project we have discovered new tree champions, many of whom are now in the process of becoming Tree Wardens – from Ringwood in Hants, to Penrith in Cumbria and Boscastle in Cornwall.

This is just the beginning

Network Rail are thrilled with the programme and we were pleased to welcome Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines to plant a tree in a Covid-safe way before Christmas. As the person in charge of delivering this programme, my eyes have been opened to just how committed Network Rail really are to increasing Biodiversity Net Gain (a strategic commitment of theirs), and to working with communities to ‘get it right’ when it comes to local trees. 

Covid restrictions have curtailed many plans for communities and children to get out and plant trees, but we can all rest assured that the trees will still be there this spring when we all hopefully re-emerge, along with the freshly-flushed leaves, and looking ahead to next season and beyond there will be lifetimes of fun, love and learning to be had from a truly transformational project.

Well done Tree Wardens and well done Network Rail!