Thursday, September 16News For London

For greener pastures in London. Literally.

Sub-zero temperatures at 10am on a Saturday morning — far from a good excuse to put on your tough boots, roll up your sleeves and head out to plant trees.


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Volunteers planting saplings in King George’s Field, Southall. Photos: Anushka Gurnaney

Which is why it came as a welcome surprise when several enthusiastic groups of volunteers gathered at Southall’s King George’s Field last weekend for a tree-planting exercise. Organised by Ealing Council in partnership with NGO Trees For Cities and Unilever, the aim was to plant 10,000 new saplings in a single day.

The event was part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s larger efforts to make London a greener place by planting 40,000 new trees across the city. His iTree urban forest survey shows that London has 8 million trees that are worth a whopping £6.1 billion to the economy and contribute £130 million in wider benefits. These include the amount of pollution tree foliage helps combat, their carbon dioxide storage levels and their rainwater holding capacities.

In a recent press statement about the event, Mr. Johnson said: “London is one of the greenest, leafiest cities on the planet and as our latest survey proves, our canopy does a ‘tree mendous’ job of lowering pollution, alleviating flood water and boosting our environment. I look forward to seeing the new Ealing woodland take shape.”

Trees For Cities’ biggest project till date, Saturday’s volunteering activity was the second phase of a plan to plant a total of 20,000 edible plants and trees in King George’s Field alone. These would eventually provide cleaner air to breathe, a better climate, a greener borough and happier and healthier lives for local residents.

Kate Sheldon, Development Director at Trees For Cities said: “This project demonstrates the powerful effect of bringing people together to plant trees. People of all ages love to plant a tree; it is great exercise, great fun, and makes such a difference to community spaces.”

The task for volunteers was fairly simple — each person was enrolled and assigned to alphabetically organised plots of land where a Trees For Cities volunteer walked them through the tree-planting process. So armed with thick gloves, shovels and wheelbarrows provided by the organisers, volunteers squelched their way to their designated grassy squares. Lawrence, one of the guides, demonstrated how to dig up patches of earth, stick a sapling in, pack up the hole once again and then ‘mulch’ (a process of spreading bark chippings over the freshly planted saplings) each stem.

According to The Woodland Trust, however, we still aren’t planting as many trees as we have lost over the recent years. The United Nations World Urbanization Report 2014 has estimated that by 2050, 80 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. This poses a huge threat to the global tree-cover situation, especially when trees are such a crucial resource not only for the environment but also for health and infrastructure.

A spokesperson from the Trust said: “We need to plant more trees as tree cover in urban areas can help mitigate the ‘urban heat island effect’. Buildings, roads and other hard surfaces act as giant storage heaters, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night. The resultant effects can be dramatic; on some days there is a difference of as much as 10 degrees Celcius between central London and its surrounding suburbs. Projections for our changing climate suggest this problem will get markedly worse.”

For Mrs. Jessy Kaur, a volunteer and resident of Southall, planting trees felt like planting a future for her grandchildren. “I may not be around ten or twenty years from now, but these trees definitely will be. In a concrete jungle like this, such greenery, plants and trees are important, not only for fresh and clean air but also for the future of the next generation. They will have space for recreation and a much better neighbourhood.”

For other student volunteers, planting trees in London made them feel like they were giving back to the city in their own little way.

A community volunteering event like the Trees For Cities one may well have been just a small step in the right direction for local residents. But not only did it engage them in a fun activity with friends and family, it also made them feel a sense of responsibility for their surroundings. And the 10,000 freshly planted saplings that quivered victoriously in the windy King George’s Field stood testimony to the fact.