The NHS Forest was set up in 2009 as a tree planting project, encouraging healthcare sites around the UK to plant a tree for each member of staff. The scope and aims of the project have evolved hugely since then, and the NHS Forest is now a thriving network of green space activities, from rooftop gardens to allotments and meadows. Planting trees is no longer a requirement to join our network.

However, tree planting remains a core part of our work. We donate thousands of free saplings every year to NHS sites, with some planting them in vast numbers, and others choosing to establish small groves or single memorial trees. We supply each site with a minimum of 10 trees, up to several hundred, depending on our availability each year – find out more about requesting NHS Forest trees here. Sites may also procure their own if they want just a few fruit trees, or to plant new woodlands on a large scale. Any newly planted trees count towards the NHS Forest.

Tree planting guidance pack

Our Tree Planting Guidance Pack is a valuable resource for anyone considering planting trees on their healthcare site. It covers everything from species selection to siting, types of tree planting, equipment checklists, organising and promoting your tree planting event, and links for further information and support.

Tree planting considerations

If you’re keen to plant trees on or near your healthcare site, you’ll need to identify suitable spaces and species. The right trees in the right place are more important than simply trying to plant as many trees as possible. You’ll want to consider the soil type, availability of water (saplings are thirsty – especially over the summer months), and the size of the mature tree. There is a balance between planting close to buildings so that people can access the trees easily and enjoy viewing them through a window, and having them too close so that the tree and building risk damaging each other as the tree grows.

New Court Surgery - tree planting
New Court Surgery – tree planting. All rights reserved.
Yorkshire Ambulance Service HQ tree planting
Yorkshire Ambulance Service HQ tree planting. All rights reserved.

Our NHS Forest sites have many types of tree planting initiatives. They include woodland restoration, orchards, hedgerows, memorial gardens and even a Tiny Forest! Different types of tree planting will serve different – and multiple – purposes on your site, from providing shade outside a staff canteen and offering habitats and food to wildlife, to reducing air pollution and creating secluded garden areas for patients to relax between treatments.

Carbon offsetting

Trees also capture carbon of course, which mitigates climate change, but we do not offer NHS Forest trees as part of carbon offsetting initiatives – read more about this here.

Planting and maintenance

You will need to plan your planting day, and how you are going to recruit and engage staff, volunteers and the wider community if needed. Follow up care is incredibly important – from weeding to watering and pruning. The first two years after planting are the most important in determining the long-term survival chances and health of a tree, so ensure that adequate maintenance plans are in place for this period. Depending on the type of tree planting and the location, you may also want to consider signage, walkways and seating options. Our guidance pack has plenty of advice on all of this.

Ordering your NHS Forest trees

Tree planting season runs from November to March each year, and we ask sites to express their interest as early as possible from March onwards – demand often outstrips supply, and this also gives us more time to work with you on your planting plans. We typically close our order books around the start of the tree planting season in November or December, and reopen them around March.

If you are keen to support the planting of NHS Forest trees but do not have a suitable site, you can sponsor a tree.

Our tree planting project is funded by the Trees Call to Action Fund. The fund was developed by Defra in partnership with the Forestry Commission and is being delivered by the Heritage Fund.

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