The NHS Forest expanded by nearly four and a half thousand trees in the 2020/21 planting season. With funding from the UK government’s 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.

Large-scale planting

With more trees to donate than ever before, large-scale tree planting has been possible this season. Two trusts each received 1,000 trees from the NHS Forest this year. Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) will be planting their trees at the end of March across four mental health and learning disability hospitals in the North of England. Service users, staff and volunteers are all engaged in the planting plans and events. The trees will improve the biodiversity of habitats across the four sites, and create wildlife corridors to connect existing planted areas. They will also play a role in supporting the wellbeing of staff and service users: screening eyesores such as car parks, providing shade and a space to connect with nature, and contributing to the walking routes that exist on three of the four sites to promote exercise and relaxation. 

“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.”

Sarah Neil, Sustainability Officer, CNTW

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. 200 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.

NHS Forest trees planted at Trym Valley near Southmead Hospital
NHS Forest trees planted at Trym Valley near Southmead Hospital. Photo: Jack McCrickard. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Encouraging biodiversity

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. 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 Hospital, 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. The team have also planted lavender to provide a soothing fragrance outside windows and give patients the opportunity to observe pollinating insects from their rooms.

Looking ahead

This year’s tree planting season has come to a close, but plans are already in the pipeline for next year’s season, which starts in November. If your healthcare 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 to discuss plans. Each site can request between 10 and 1,000 NHS Forest trees.

Banner photo: Planting trees for the NHS Forest at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Emma Clarke. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

The Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund was developed by Defra and its Arm’s-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

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