Planting trees at the right time of year – the time is now, says National Trust

Press release
Tree planting autumn 2021
Published : 23 Nov 2021

With National Tree Week nearly upon us, the National Trust is today urging people across the country to either plant a tree or donate to a tree planting charity as prime tree planting season approaches. Planting trees is one of the simplest ways for nations to tackle the climate crisis because they sequester carbon dioxide.

New research commissioned by the conservation charity suggests a growing appreciation of the benefits of planting trees and a growing relationship with trees among UK adults.

Results from a YouGov poll show that in future nearly half of all UK adults (49 per cent) would consider planting a tree to help the environment (with only 16 per cent having done so previously).  

46 per cent said they would consider planting a tree in their garden or outdoor space (with 38 per cent having done so previously). 

Statistics also revealed that over a quarter (28 per cent) of people would donate money to a conservation organisation to plant a tree on its land.

The charity also found that 42 per cent of adults thought spring was the right time of year to plant trees, compared to the seven per cent who correctly identified winter as the ideal time of year for tree planting.

Spring and summer are the worst time for planting trees as young trees need a lot of water, and traditionally this is when the UK experiences less rainfall which means the trees fail as they are unable to get properly established.  Also broad leaf trees are dormant in winter so can be moved from nurseries to site and planted with minimal impact and stress to the tree.

The poll also found that more than a third (35 per cent) of adults say they would consider giving someone a tree rather than flowers or another gift (12 per cent have given a tree as a gift in the past).

Trees also appear to have become more important to people since March 2020, with over a quarter (28 per cent) of people saying they notice trees more now than before the start of the pandemic, compared to only three per cent who reported a decrease. Furthermore, over a third (37 per cent) of people say they take “considerable notice” of how trees change throughout the year.

John Deakin, Head of Trees & Woodland at the National Trust says: “Every tree can make a difference to our planet.  Trees are good for people, nature and vital in our battle against climate change.

“Trees can be effective for carbon storage and capture once they become more established – typically when they are five years old; and are then at their most effective for helping absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) when they are between 30 and100 years old, although importantly carbon continues to accumulate in well managed woodlands. Open grown trees may continue to sequester carbon at a greater rate when they are older.  But regardless of their age they remain brilliant homes for nature, providing the ideal environment for an increasingly diverse range of species as they get ever older including birds, bats and invertebrates such as bees, beetles and hoverflies.  This is why it’s really important for us to look after and care for our veteran and ancient trees as well as planting and establishing an ongoing pipeline of new trees.  

“We also need to plant more trees to ensure we continually offset the deficit caused by tree diseases such as ash dieback, chalara fraxinea, and sudden larch death, phytophthora ramorum.  Some tree diseases are being exacerbated by climate change as trees which are more stressed due to drought, for example, are more susceptible to disease.  Also, due to warmer winter temperatures some tree diseases are no longer being killed off by the cold winter weather.  

“It’s really important that we all play our part – literally every tree counts.  And, even if people don’t have the space to plant a tree, they can donate to our ‘plant a tree’ campaign to help make a difference to nature.”

The conservation charity currently cares for over 26,000 hectares of woodland spread across 400 properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Over half of this is ancient woodland, with the Trust looking after one of the largest populations of ancient and veteran trees in the world.

However, England has one of the lowest levels of woodland cover relative to the rest of the UK and parts of Europe currently at 10 per cent – with the Government’s current ambition to increase this to 12 per cent by 2060.  

With its ambition to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030, the National Trust is aiming for at least 17 per cent of tree cover on its land and is reiterating to Government that it should set a target to achieve the same with British woodland cover overall in line with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last year.

Patrick Begg, Outdoors & Natural Resources Director at the National Trust said: “Establishing new trees at scale and planting the right trees in the right places can help us draw down atmospheric carbon, help slow the flow of water to prevent flooding as well as filtering water, and are also great homes for nature.

“Six-thousand years ago, 75 per cent of the UK’s land mass was covered in woodland[3]. Rewinding the clock to that status quo is obviously not feasible or even practical – but we should strive to a figure much closer to 20 per cent, which would bring so many benefits to people, nature and the planet.”

Trust planting plans

This winter the Trust will start some of its most ambitious planting projects – with more than 600,000 trees due to be planted.  

In the southwest, a total of 100,000 trees are due to be planted, with 60,000 trees planted in north Devon as part of a project which aims to plant 125,000 trees by 2025.

By creating new woodland right on the coast, this unique environment will benefit nature including pollinators, small mammals including bats, plus people.

Daniel Cameron, National Trust Ranger says: “We’re planting new woodland to expand existing areas of woodland and to create new corridors for nature to benefit the movement of wildlife, giving them a better chance of survival.

“There are great benefits to gain from tree planting. We can improve valuable habitats and biodiversity while making an impact on carbon emissions that contribute climate change.  Besides all of this, trees create a wonderful oasis to escape for peace and tranquility.”

In the Midlands nearly 75,000 trees will be planted with at least 39,000 trees planted at two sites in the Peak District as part of the charity’s Clough Woodland Project, where the aim is to see woodland return to the cloughs and valleys of the High Peak.

Twenty-three thousand trees will be planted at Misden and Mosley bank across 37 hectares, with 11,000 trees planted at Alport dale across an area of 70 hectares.

Project Manager Jonathan Collett says: “Woodland was once widespread in the area and has declined considerably over the centuries due to land use changes and is now an underrepresented habitat.

“Due to the sites being hard to access, we are having to heli-lift in the stakes to support the new trees being planted so this site is a bit more complicated – but we definitely think it will be worth the effort.  We’re planting native broad leaf trees including holly, hawthorn, sessile oak, alder, rowan, bird cherry, downy and silver birch.  Once established the trees will make fantastic homes for wildlife especially birds such as siskins, treecreepers and spotted flycatcher.”

In Wales the Trust is aiming to plant over 122,000 trees and in the southeast of England the team is planning on planting 100,000 trees at sites Slindon in West Sussex and Buscot & Coleshill in Wiltshire.  

In the north, more than135,000 trees will be planted with one of the major sites at Wallington where 75,000 trees will be planted.  In the east of England, over 120,000 trees will be planted, including a significant tree planting project at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.  Nearly 75,000 trees will be planted in the Midlands and approximately 18,500 trees in Northern Ireland.

The tree planting projects taking place this autumn have been funded thanks to a mix of donations through the National Trust’s ‘plant a tree’ appeal which has so far raised £1.2 million through 60,000 donations over the past 13 months – plus the Peak District Appeal, legacies, Trust memberships, the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, grants from Forestry England, players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, a corporate donation from HSBC and a corporate partnership with Severn Trent.  

For more information on the National Trust’s tree planting campaign, or to make a donation, visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/plant-a-tree

- Ends –

Picture editor’s notes

Images are available for use with this story via the link below.  Please credit as indicated.

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YouGov survey

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2271 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10-13th September 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).