The NHS Forest expanded by nearly four and a half thousand trees in the 2020/21 season. With funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, Ecosia, The Great Outdoor Gym Company and many individual sponsors, we have supplied trees to 18 NHS Trusts – from Cornwall to Edinburgh and South Wales to Newcastle. Navigating covid-19 restrictions and the coldest February since 1955, NHS sites across the UK have developed their green spaces, improved their local environment and supported wider goals of capturing carbon and protecting biodiversity through their activities. Read on for a few examples of some of the great work that has taken place this season…
With more trees to donate than ever before, large-scale tree planting has been possible this season. Two trusts each received one thousand trees from the NHS Forest this year. Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust will be planting their trees at the end of March across four mental health and learning disability hospitals in the north of England.
Sarah Neil, Sustainability Officer, said: “At CNTW we want to make the most of our green spaces for service users, carers, staff and local communities to enjoy, encouraging biodiversity and connection with nature. As we walk around our hospital sites we can see so much potential for enhancing what is already there and we hope that this tree planting project will be the first of many such initiatives.” You can read their press release about the tree planting here.
At Guild Lodge, in Preston, a medium-secure mental health hospital run by Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, volunteers planted 1,000 trees in mid-March to form the structure of a woodland willow coppice. The coppice will provide opportunities for staff, service users and the local community to exercise, relax and connect with nature. Plans include educational displays, a walking path, and seating.
One volunteer involved in tree planting commented: “We are so proud to be part of the NHS Forest and the donation this year means we can create a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy and learn all about the different species, birds and insects that depend on our trees for protection and survival”. This sentiment was echoed by a service user, who said: “Having all these trees to plant gives me a sense of belonging and feeling needed …watching them grow and mature into full grown trees will be amazing.”
Offering community benefit
Southmead Hospital, a major NHS hospital run by North Bristol NHS Trust, have planted their trees outside hospital grounds with the help of the local council. Two hundred trees were planted at the Trym Valley, a green space near to the Southmead site. The trees (including rare Black Poplar) will help stabilise the river banks and reduce the risk of erosion during periods of rainfall and higher river flows.
The planted area is also used by hospital staff for relaxation and breaks from work. The trees will improve the environment for the staff who use the space, as well as for members of the local community.
A number of NHS Trusts that have planted trees this season have highlighted the biodiversity benefits that the trees can provide. Sheffield Children’s Hospital, which planted trees at a residential Children and Adolescent Mental Health facility, produced educational resources to go along with these events. Phillip Branford, the Environmental and Sustainability Officer, said: “Trees are our most important natural ally as they absorb carbon dioxide, the gas that's most responsible for climate change. We also wanted to encourage more wildlife around the site and trees are a big help with this”.
Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health, learning disability and community trust, have planted their 268 trees as part of their Biodiversity Action Plan. In Nottinghamshire, Torbay (Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust), and Bradford, trees such as hawthorn and blackthorn have been planted to form hedgerows, providing habitats and contributing to wildlife corridors.
Supporting mental health
Mental health trusts have been busy planting trees on their sites, with a particular focus on improving the green space at residential facilities for the wellbeing of staff and service users alike. Some of the six sites in Nottinghamshire that planted trees this season have run these events for service users. For example, at Arnold Lodge a medium-secure unit in Leicester, service users planted trees alongside the site horticulturalist as a therapeutic activity; and at Millbrook Mental Health Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield NHS Forest trees are helping to create a ‘wellbeing orchard’ for both service users and staff.
At Guild Lodge in Preston, exciting technology plans are in the pipeline: the Trust has invested in Virtual Reality equipment that will allow service users unable to physically access the woodland, a chance to experience it in a virtual environment. At Swandean, a mental health inpatient unit in Worthing, run by Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust, the Sustainability and Environment Team is creating a walking route map to help service users and staff identify the trees around them. Further to this, the team planted lavender to provide a soothing fragrance outside windows and give patients the opportunity to observe pollinating insects from their rooms.
This year’s tree planting season has wound to a close, but plans are already in the pipeline for next year’s season, which starts in November. If your health site is interested in planting trees, improving provision for wildlife, or developing green space for patient, staff, and local community wellbeing – please do get in touch with Miriam at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss plans. We can offer sites between ten trees and a thousand this year and hope the above round-up from the past season has given you an idea of the breadth and diversity of projects that can be undertaken as part of the NHS Forest.
The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is being delivered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency. All photos used with permission from subjects and photographers and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International. Photographs from top to bottom: Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (headline photo, taken by Emma Clarke); Royal Edinburgh Hospital (photo by Katie Smith); Trym Valley near Southmead Hospital (photo by Jack McCrickard); Torbay (photo by Collette Germon).