‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’
In the spirit of this proverb, and fully aware that there’s no time to lose, the green-fingered people behind the Bridport Tree Planting (BTP) group got together three years ago with a mission to bring more trees to public and private spaces around the town.
“We were inspired by a Friends of the Earth scheme to double the tree cover in this country,” says Joe Hackett, the group’s coordinator. “Great Britain has a low level of cover compared with other European countries, and Dorset is among the less well covered English counties. As well as looking beautiful and providing shade, trees have a beneficial effect on local biodiversity that’s clear to see – we can see the increase in certain species where we’ve planted.”
The group was launched at Bridport’s Apple Day celebrations in 2019, and many people signed up to the mailing list and promised their support. The first BTP planting was just a couple of months later at Asker Meadows, where 70 people got together to plant 200 trees. “They’re native species, including downy birch, willow, rowan and wild cherry,” says Joe. “Happily nearly all of them have survived and are now up to six or seven feet tall; the ones near the river have fared best.”
BTP works closely with Bridport Town Council to monitor the local tree stock as well as to secure permits to plant trees in public spaces. This winter the group will be embarking on its most ambitious scheme yet at Flaxhayes, near the end of St Swithin’s Road, where it will be planting pollinating shrubs, large specimen trees and fruit trees, among others, to help biodiversity and improve the area for local people. This is in addition to the 75 saplings the group planted here last year. This part of town is becoming a haven for nature, with a new wildflower meadow and the neighbouring Otter Bend community project that’s creating a natural space filled with trees, herbs and fungi.
The group planted about 600 trees in public spaces during last year’s planting season, including around 90 saplings at Millennium Green, 54 saplings near the playground in West Bay, and a 30-metre mixed native hedge at Bridport Youth & Community Centre.
The other vital part of BTP’s work is helping people to plant trees on their own land. Some of this work is on a large scale – such as the hundreds of trees the group provided for a farm out past Broadoak, and the 10,000 trees in a valley near Melplash, schemes for which they worked with Nick Gray of Dorset Wildlife Trust to determine the best varieties to use. Organisers emphasise, however, that planting even a single sapling in a back garden is very worthwhile.
“Planting a tree is simply a wonderful thing to do; trees grow and you see the results; but if you don’t plant it, it won’t grow!” says volunteer John Hinsley. “We can provide three free trees to every household, plus advice about which variety would be most suitable. We give away about a thousand trees each year for private planting.”
In spring 2020 the town council provided an enclosure on land at Riverside Gardens, at the bottom of East Street, so BTP could establish its own tree nursery. “We started with 400 trees there, and the number has grown,” says John. “About half are bare-rooted saplings, which we provide for heeling in to a shallow trench in situ and the rest we grow on for a year or two.”
BTP buys some of the trees it plants, including from Groves Nurseries, who have been sponsoring the group for two years by giving them a free tree for every tree sold. Other saplings have come free from the Woodland Trust and some larger trees have been donated by Ovo Energy under the company’s ‘I Dig Trees’ scheme.
Members of the public sometimes donate trees, too, but if you don’t have a spare sapling – or room to plant one – there are other ways to help. “We always need volunteers for weeding and watering” says Joe. “Please get in touch!”
You can find BTP on Facebook, or email Joe Hackett (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join the group’s mailing list and receive their bi-monthly newsletter.