The 2021-22 tree planting season has just wrapped up, and it’s been the NHS Forest’s biggest effort to date. Across the UK, 15,721 NHS Forest trees were planted at 83 sites from the south coast of England to the Cairngorms of Scotland. The variety of activities once again highlights the vast potential of tree planting on the NHS estate – providing benefits for staff, patients, the local community and the wider environment as a whole.

All the new trees will provide habitats for wildlife and support biodiversity, help reduce air pollution, provide shade and beautify the areas they are planted in, as well as providing wellbeing benefits to everybody around them. However, many NHS Forest sites this year have planted their trees for more poignant reasons. Commemorating lives lost to Covid-19 was a key theme, and the virus did not let up during the tree planting season either, with the winter wave of the pandemic forcing many sites to rearrange their planting days.

Memorial planting is the theme of a huge project carried out by Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust. They planted over 2,400 NHS Forest trees across the YAS estate this season, with smaller scale planting at ambulance stations in Bradford, Sherburn, Castleford and Longley, and around 2,000 trees planted at Fairfields in York. The Fairfields trees form part of a wider plan to increase and improve biodiversity on-site. The project has also involved meadow creation, planning for planting of bulbs, creation of a pond, and the development of a woodland walkway and staff seating areas. The project aims to provide a habitat for the endangered Tansy beetle, which is only found in two areas in the UK – Norfolk and York.

Tree planting at Oaks Park Primary Care Centre, Barnsley, 2022
Tree planting at Oaks Park Primary Care Centre, Barnsley. Credit: Peter Hague. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Apple tree at New Leaf orchard, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, 2022
Apple tree at New Leaf orchard, Devon Partnership NHS Trust. Photo: Mark Rattenbury 2022. All rights reserved.

In Barnsley, meanwhile, schoolchildren planted trees to commemorate two staff members at Barnsley Healthcare Federation who sadly lost their lives to the virus. Plans for the garden involve a commemorative plaque and two benches.

Biodiversity is a key issue in the current British environmental climate. Another site making this a focus in its NHS Forest tree planting is Grantown-on-Spey GP Surgery in the Scottish Cairngorms. Adjacent to the medical practice is a beautiful ancient woodland, where the NHS Forest trees planted this year have replaced dead or diseased specimens to keep the forest thriving. Seating and a woodland walkway provides access for the staff at the surgery as well as for the community, so all can enjoy the woodlands.

The NHS Forest has also provided trees to support the creation of new woodlands this season, and working in partnership with Earthwatch we have been involved in our very first Tiny Forest project. At Littlemore Mental Health Centre in Oxford, 600 trees of 18 species were planted using the Miyawaki method to encourage fast-growing native forestry to boost biodiversity and improve the site’s green spaces. Earthwatch will collect environmental data such as the carbon absorption and flood mitigation contribution from the forest over the next few years, as well as assessing the social and wellbeing value of the trees, to further help develop our understanding of the myriad benefits that tree planting provides.

Seating area at Grantown Health Wood
Seating area at Grantown Health Wood. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Ben Williams of Earthwatch Europe plants a tree in Littlemore Hospital's Tiny Forest
Ben Williams of Earthwatch Europe plants a tree in Littlemore Hospital’s Tiny Forest. Photo: Carey Newson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Individual and small-scale tree planting is just as important to the NHS Forest as woodland creation and we ensure that smaller estates have as much chance to enjoy the benefits of trees as large ones. This is brilliantly demonstrated by the tree planting efforts that took place this season at the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board in South Wales. Eighty-five tree saplings were planted at 22 sites within the health board, from GP surgeries and dental practices to laundry service headquarters and mental health hospitals.

Linda Prosser, Cwm Taf Morgannwg Executive Director of Strategy and Transformation, sums it up perfectly: “Tree planting may seem like a small step in a much bigger picture, but when you bring each of these actions together, we show that collectively, we can all help improve the way we care for our people and our planet.”

At the NHS Forest we are incredibly proud of each and every one of this year’s tree planting sites. The scope of projects and geographical breadth of tree planting is bigger and more exciting than ever before, and we already have our eyes on the horizon for the potential that next year’s planting season could bring. We donate our saplings for free, and none of it would be possible without the help of the various supporters that fund the trees and project running costs. If you want to support our work, on a personal or a professional level, you can sponsor an NHS Forest tree, or email if you are interested in funding larger numbers of trees.

A huge thank you to all our tree sponsors and the 83 NHS Forest sites that have participated in this year’s tree planting season! You can read more about all our sites here.

Banner photo: Tree planting at Fairfields, York. Alexis Percival / Yorkshire Ambulance Service 2022. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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