In the first week of December, we’ve got trees on the brain. But that’s not just because Christmas is only a few weeks away – it’s National Tree Week!
Trees are nature’s powerhouses, and they are especially great for rivers. Planting trees is one of the Rivers Trust movement’s biggest activities, and in 2020 our local member Trusts planted more than 300,000 of them. But it’s not a case of planting as many trees as possible, wherever possible. The key to getting tree planting right is putting the right trees in the right places. Woodlands are just one of many vital ecosystems, so it’s important that we don’t destroy one nature haven to create another. Tree planting in habitats such as peatlands and grasslands, which have their own unique value, is not a nature positive solution. For tree planting to reap the biggest possible reward, it needs to add to nature, not detract from it.
Why are trees so important?
The main benefit of planting trees you’re likely already aware of is their role in carbon capture. Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis they can also help lock it into the ground, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. This is why tree planting targets and halting deforestation have been so central to international climate change discussions, such as the recent COP26 summit.
It's not all about carbon, though, and climate change is not the only environmental crisis we’re currently facing. Nature degradation and biodiversity loss also threaten the delicate balance of ecosystems on a landscape scale. Planting native trees, therefore, or allowing natural regeneration of forests and woodlands protects the trees themselves, as well as supporting other wildlife that live in and around them.
We also love trees because of the role they play in natural flood management. They can intercept water during heavy rainfall and slow the rate of runoff into rivers. When planted near rivers, tree roots help to stabilise the banks and improve infiltration levels of the soil, so that more water is absorbed into the earth. Felled trees or logs can also be used to mitigate flooding in the form of leaky dams. These small interventions all slow the flow of rivers and ease the pressure on downstream areas. Planting trees and encouraging natural regeneration in contiguous strips along rivers can also provide wider water quality benefits by disrupting the flow of diffuse pollution, as well as creating wildlife corridors and helping to keep rivers cool, both of which will help reduce the impact of climate change.
Seeing trees embraced as Nature-based Solutions on a national scale is one of the reasons why we have jointly created Woodlands for Water, the first project being led by the Riverscapes partnership. With support from Defra, the project aims to create 3,150 hectares of riparian woodland in six river catchment areas from Devon to Cumbria by March 2025. Experts from The Rivers Trust, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Beaver Trust will be on hand to provide expert assistance in the selected river catchment areas across England, ensuring there is a pipeline of projects for riparian planting in future years. This is an approach that we hope can be scales up across all UK catchments in time.
To create these woodlands, farmers and landowners will be able to get free help advice and support from local land management advisers to apply for funding through the England Woodland Creation Offer, as well as identify opportunities for additional blended finance options, such as carbon and biodiversity credits, which provide greater financial incentives for landowners and farmers to plant and manage trees along rivers, watercourses and wider catchments.
As well as upcoming work on national initiatives such as Woodlands for Water, many of our local Trusts are doing amazing work during National Tree week, and all year round.
Ribble Rivers Trust – turning Black Friday green
Ribble Rivers Trust encouraged the public to have a more eco-friendly Black Friday, forgoing the sales shopping and spending £15 to plant a tree instead. Part of the Lancashire Woodland Connect initiative to double Lancashire’s woodland in the next decade, the scheme allows people to see where their tree is planted on a map and to get annual photo updates of the woodland.
Thames21 – creating a new woodland for London
Thames21 is working in partnership with Enfield Council to restore Enfield Chase, 60 hectares of former royal hunting ground in the Salmon’s Brook catchment, part of the greater River Lea catchment. This is London’s largest reforestation project. There are several tree planting events being held in December.
Tweed Forum – trees for communities and wildlife
Tweed Forum is celebrating National Tree Week by revisiting one of their Eddleston Water Project natural flood management sites near Cringletie. The earliest river re-meandering works were undertaken in 2013 with accompanying floodplain woodland tree planting in 2014. The trees have grown rapidly and will provide a range of benefits including slowing the flow of flood water; increasing habitat connectivity; improving habitat for wildlife; enhancing water quality; and capturing carbon.
Before and after images of Tweed Forum's Eddleston Water Project.
Bristol Avon Rivers Trust – community planting for nature
BART are excited to be planting more than 1800 trees in the River Chew catchment during National Tree Week. Multiple community planting events will also see volunteers help to plant 300 metres of new hedgerow to improve habitat connectivity and increase field roughness in order to reduce the impact of agricultural runoff to local streams. BART will also plant 300 trees in strategic locations at headwater restoration and wetland creation sites in the catchment. Over 40 local volunteers will be involved including young, future conservationists and environmental heroes.
Action for the River Kennet – planting trees for Sparkling Streams
ARK are running volunteer tree planting tasks throughout December at three locations in the Kennet catchment (Hungerford, East Grafton and Great Bedwyn). This is part of their Sparkling Streams project, which takes a catchment-based approach to improving some of the failing rivers in the Kennet catchment.
This week they’ve begun an epic tree planting plan and, together with volunteers, they’ll be planting 8,300 native trees! This will help with water quality the Shalbourne Stream the Dun by slowing overland flows, increasing infiltration back into the ground during rainy periods and reducing soil erosion.
This project is funded by the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The fund is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency. Project partners are North Wessex Downs AONB, Hungerford Town and Manor and the Southern Stream Farmer Group. See a video from tree planting events below.
Planting trees for water
Trees are one of the most important aspects of the riparian landscape. When planted in the right place, they provide multiple benefits for people, nature, and wildlife.