News Stories

Trees fighting back with Biffa Award
28 October 2013

Picture of Hartsholme Country Park credited to Gemma de Gouveia, Degoo Pics

Recently we’ve heard a lot about the plight faced by the nation’s trees – whether it’s from industrial developments like new transport links, or above all, from serious pests and diseases like Ash Dieback  and Acute Oak Decline. 


This is great cause for concern – especially given that the UK is already one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with just 12 percent woodland cover compared with the European average of 44 percent.


Trees are vitally important and offer so much to our landscape and environment – among their many advantages they provide oxygen and climate amelioration, improve air quality, preserve soil and support wildlife.  And most people would agree that they look pretty good, too.


But the threats are real and startling.  To take just a couple – according to the Forestry Commission Ash Dieback has already been confirmed at over 500 UK sites in counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire, amid signs that it is becoming more deeply embedded.  And the Woodland Trust calculates that 33 ancient woods are under threat from the proposed HS2 High Speed Rail route, with a further 34 at risk within 200m of the line. 


Some good news


Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Last week it was reported that scientists have managed to sequence the genome of a type of ash tree with resistance to the deadly Ash Dieback disease sweeping the UK.  It is hoped that a new breed of ash will be able to grow and survive, which, though doing nothing to protect Britain’s 80 million existing ash trees, could be the starting point for breeding a strain of ash to replace thousands of trees expected to yield to Ash Dieback in the next few years.


There is also a lot of dedicated work going on by various organisations around the country to encourage and support tree populations.  In fact, Biffa Award has funded several important projects which are helping UK tree populations to fight back amid these serious threats. 


Perhaps the biggest tree-supporting initiative we have been involved with is our Partnership project with the Woodland Trust, called ‘Trees Enriching Communities’.  In support of the wider Jubilee Woods Project, Biffa Award has so far pledged almost £1 million to involve 2 million people in planting 2 million trees in their local area, with the aim of engaging them in planting woodland to enhance local environments, store carbon, filter pollution, and provide food and shelter for wildlife.  The project has made a range of tree species available free of charge to communities, which in 2012 included a royal sapling, grown from a seed from the royal estate, to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.


Meanwhile, earlier this year the Wildlife Habitat Protection Trust was awarded £49,728 for their South Milford woods habitat creation and protection project. In the last few months this has seen the creation of a dedicated nature reserve, where native flora and fauna are actively encouraged to establish. The project aims to create ideal habitats for the song thrush, native ground-covering plants and self-seeded trees; to reduce sycamore coverage at the edges of the woodland allowing more light on to the ground; and to restore and enhance 4.7 hectares of old native woodland.


In July 2010 Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust was awarded £42,750 to fund the Dolforwyn Woods project, which aimed to improve the breadth of biodiversity in this area of ancient woodland, increasing opportunities for species such as dormice and reducing the impact of grazing animals.  The project aimed to restore 17 hectares to Ancient Woodland condition and restore two hectares of Ancient Woodland to good ecological condition. At the end of 2012 the project was pleased to report that there were already two Dormouse nests on site – the first formal record on the site.

Around the same time, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was awarded £43,971 for the creation and restoration of wet woodland sites on the river Calder. Through the Wild Wet Woodlands project the Trust involved local volunteers in the planting of 1,900 trees, and created 18 hectares of wet woodland across several different sites


Small mercies


Another bit of good news is that it doesn’t necessarily take a large grant to make a difference.  Last year, the Marston Vale Trust was awarded £1,030 under Biffa Award’s Small Grants Scheme for their Returning Elm trees to the Forest project in Lidlington, Bedfordshire.  The project was the direct result of community consultation in which one respondent recounted memories of losses during the 1970s of elm trees in the local area to Dutch elm disease and suggested planting some replacements.


With support from Biffa Award, the project is making a local contribution to the wider Great British Elm Experiment (GBEE) and will involve the purchase of 200 cell-grown seedlings from native elm varieties, carefully propagated from mature elm trees found in the English countryside, which have survived the disease. These 'plugs' will be grown and cared for in specially constructed nursery beds, until they are suitable for introduction across 10 of the Trust’s sites.  Once planted out, an organised system of maintenance and monitoring of the young trees will take place twice yearly over 10 years or more. Data, including on the height and girth of the trees, associated biodiversity and signs of disease, will be fed back to GBEE as part of the national recording programme.


These are just some of the tree-friendly projects supported by Biffa Award.  It’s clear we still have a way to go to protect and preserve our local and national tree populations, but combined with scientific developments to remedy and replace those trees affected by disease, projects like these are making a difference that will be felt by future generations of both people and wildlife.


To find out more about our funded projects, and to look for a project near you, check out the projects page on our website.  Here you will find details of all our funded projects, which you can search by location and/or by theme.