On 14 March 2020, just nine days before the first national lockdown, Earthwatch, Witney Town Council and local volunteers planted the UK’s first Tiny Forest. Despite the impending doom and growing global concerns, it was a day of excitement and new beginnings as 600 saplings were planted on a tennis court-sized plot of under-utilised land between a residential area and the A40. The day was a success and the UK's first Tiny Forest was in the ground. The team were excited for the planting season ahead and ready to plant the second forest in Oxford with Oxford City Council! But as the global situation worsened, group gatherings cancelled and stay-at-home rules introduced, all planting plans were on hold, indefinitely.
As the months of lockdown rolled on, it became clear that access to local greenspace was such an important thing for mental well-being and for helping to mitigate the localised effects of climate change. Appreciation for the nature on our doorsteps soared and those with gardens made the most of them. However, with more and more people living in dense, urban areas, access to green space was not available to everyone. Tiny Forest can play a part in facing these challenges. They bring the benefits of a forest – reconnecting people with nature and raising awareness, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as providing nature-rich habitat patches to support urban wildlife – right into the heart of our cities and urban spaces. With calls on the UK Government to build back better and greener, the Tiny Forest initiative is a tangible action for councils that have declared a climate emergency. It also provides a natural solution for businesses’ sustainability strategies. Because of this, we continued to inspire news, radio and TV coverage throughout the summer, securing partners and land ahead of the next planting season.
As we came to the latter half of 2020, hopes were high for planting season. Partners and land were ready to go. However, just as planting was due to start the UK was once again plunged into a national lockdown, and it looked like planting was on hold, again.
Lockdown was due to last until at least the end of the tree planting season, so it was decided that the forests planned would go ahead, but without the community’s involvement on planting day. Landscaping contractors lead the work, with some minor involvement from stakeholders, school bubbles or designated community group members where regulations allowed. The adapted plan ensured the Tiny Forests would be in place for the local communities to enjoy, connect with nature and help maintain once restrictions were lifted!
When it is safe and legal to do so, we will draw on our experience of engaging members of the public in science, to collect data and assess the benefits of each Tiny Forest. With the help of citizen scientists from the surrounding community, we will collect data on carbon absorption, flood mitigation, thermal comfort and biodiversity. We will then assess the environmental and social benefits a Tiny Forest provides over time.
Because of the hard work and determination of everyone involved, communities up and down the UK now have access to a Tiny Forest, giving them a place to relax, reconnect with nature and learn about the environment and how to protect it. Earthwatch has successfully planted forests in Witney, Oxford, Bristol, Glasgow, Jersey, Leicester, Birmingham, London, Lancing, Wolverhampton, Swindon, Speen, Doncaster and Barnsley. We’ve worked with some amazing partners including schools and local councils. As well as OVO Foundation Jersey Government and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and corporate partners Fever-Tree and MINI UK.
The next planting season will start at the end of November 2021, and we’re excited to be working with some of the same partners as well as welcoming new ones into the Tiny Forest initiative.
Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow: and so, from the first Tiny Forest in Witney in March 2020, we aim to plant over 150 Tiny Forests across the UK by 2023.