Reflections on the 22/23 Tiny Forest planting season
31st May 2023
From October 2022 to March 2023, the Earthwatch Europe team was busy planting new Tiny Forests across the UK with enthusiastic support from community volunteers, schools and corporate partners. Our Science Coordinator, Georgina Sturgeon, reflects on her highlights from this planting season.
Tiny Forest Planting Day at Southmere Park, Thamesmead. Image credit: Richard Held
A new Tiny Forest milestone
We’ve done it, past the 200-forest mark! There is now a grand total of …drum roll please… 208 Tiny Forests across the UK (plus our first in Ireland)! This has all been made possible by the 16,000+ volunteers we’ve worked with who have planted, cared for and monitored their local forests.
What a busy planting season it has been. I joined the Earthwatch team and Tiny Forest movement during the 2022 growing season. Now I can proudly say I have seen an entire calendar year of Tiny Forests and delivered my first planting season.
My Tiny Forest winter adventures started in Cambridgeshire for a couple of Tiny Forests being planted within school grounds. I remember Ashbeach Primary school planting day with a big smile on my face. Every student got to plant a tree. Some of the youngest students planted trees almost as tall as them!
One of these students wisely said that it “feels great knowing the little plants will grow to big trees”!
At the end of the day, we were delivered an envelope of 30 handmade Thank You cards, letters and drawings for us. The Tiny Forest love was real, and you could tell that those trees are in good hands! Even as the students left for home time, lots of them proudly came back to show off THEIR tree and THEIR hard work to their parents and carers. The Tiny Forest programme doesn’t only focus on the environmental benefits and ecosystem services of a forest, but also on the social benefits and nature connectedness, and this excitement for the Tiny Forest highlights just that.
A selection of Thank You notes from Ashbeach Primary School pupils
Planting in the snow
I remember the Sutton C of E Primary planting day for different reasons, mainly the sub-zero degree conditions. This Tiny Forest was one of a handful that were planted during our arctic December period, when snow covered the ground and all you wanted to do was drink hot chocolate and eat mince pies. Whilst far from ideal planting conditions, with the trees already sent to the school, we decided it was best to get them in the ground. Everyone got the job done without a complaint.
As Francesca from Thorley Hill Primary (Bishop Stortford) said, “team work makes the dream work”!
Wintery planting day conditions at Sutton C of E Primary School, Cambridgeshire
The benefits of outdoor learning
Next up, Leicester, to another school planting day with Rolleston Primary School. During a session, one of the accompanying teachers pulled me to one side to comment on the different side she could see in her students while in an outdoor setting; pointing out a student who had recently moved to Leicester and joined the school the week before, who she had recognised to be a quiet, independent student. Here he was, buzzing, working together with his classmates to plant their corner, and expressing his curiosity. Despite facilitating lots of school planting days, I can say that each one is a completely unique experience and often full of surprises. This kind of positive feedback we received from the teacher is the best reward for our team.
Rolleston Primary School Planting Day in Leicester
The difference to conventional tree planting
Next on my Tiny Forest winter adventure, I made my way to Castleton, Peak District to plant another Miyawaki forest. This site is different to our usual Tiny Forests found in urban areas constraint by development. The site will be a living laboratory for our research, directly comparing a forest planted using the Miyawaki methodology, versus a conventional tree planting approach with wider spacing and less ground preparation. The site has 600m2 of Miyawaki forest (with 1,800 trees) sandwiched by two conventional planting areas. I am excited to be able to go back to the forest in years to come to see these differences. The weekend felt like a proper ‘Tiny Forest workout’; quick-stepping in very clayey soil, digging up a mountain of mulch, and weighted walking across the forest to spread barrows and trugs of mulch.
Bringing communities together
Nearing the end of the season, I got to plant a Tiny Forest local to me, St James Park in Bishop Stortford. This forest was planted on a development site, so for lots of the area the forest will be older than future residents’ houses. There was a huge diversity of community members and groups involved throughout this day. My day started with a group of high-achieving Year 9 students, looking to apply their GCSE biology and geography knowledge of the environment and ecosystems. We then had a small but mighty group from Grove Cottage Mencap gardening club, who planted 200 saplings in an hour! Since the planting day, each of the members have signed up to become Tree Keepers to look after their Tiny Forest. We finished the day with a Primary School session and a community/corporate volunteer session. A few community members are due to move into the new build and used the Tiny Forest project to meet people and get involved in the community before making the move.
Our Science Coordinator, Georgina, at the planting day at St James Park in Bishop Stortford
Local Tiny Forest heroes
And finally, the last planting day of the season arrived on the 30th of March in Coleshill. It was a fantastic day highlighting the spirit and comradery of the locals. The sun shone and the locals came out in force, including employees from MINI UK who is one of our corporate partners and the funder of this Tiny Forest.
Steve from Coleshill was a shining example of an engaged volunteer. He was as local as you could be, living opposite the Tiny Forest with his front window looking onto the site. Before any trees were even planted he became involved; chatting to our landscapers while they prepped the soil, offering up refreshments and asking about our tree selection. Steve was one of the first to arrive and the last to leave, and has assured us he will be visiting and keeping us updated over the coming months and years.
Tiny Forest planting season 22/23 over and out! Following on from the planting season, we have now entered the monitoring season which involves schools, community groups and corporate volunteers alike in monitoring their Tiny Forest’s ecosystem services through citizen science. They also support us with maintenance activities to ensure the forests thrive for many years to come!