Updated: Jan 8, 2021
By Andreas Kornevall
Published in Permaculture Magazine No. 81 (Autumn 2014).
Most people will tell you: if you are not an expert, do not attempt something as big as a reforestation programme. I am not one of those people. Today, with the rise of resource depletion, soil erosion, flooding, mass extinction and climate change, we are in need of trees. We are in need of an army of tree planters working tirelessly across the world, co-ordinating and sharing their experiences. We are in need of millions of people to take up the responsibility to reforest the Earth.
First step: seed is free, no need to start by opening bank accounts and registering with Companies House – just start collecting. Collecting seed from nearby woodlands is fun and educational. Whilst you are collecting seeds, take a class with you from your local school, or your own children and their friends – show them the seed varieties. Seeds may look lifeless, but explain how they are living organisms – once they know this they will never look at seeds in the same way again.
Trees have an erratic seed production, some years will be better than others. If you are starting out on your seed collecting journey, begin by collecting ‘easier’ seeds such as field maple, oak, beech, hawthorn, hornbeam, rowan, lime and silver birch. Many seeds can be decoy seeds, or mimics of seeds, which means that they will not grow, some will also have been eaten on the inside. A good trick for acorns is to put them into a bucket of water and those acorns that float disregard, and those that sink, keep. The floating acorns have an air pocket inside (which means they have been eaten) or are mimic seeds.
Once you have the seeds, you have the beginnings of a reforestation project. Saplings need to grow for a minimum of a few growing seasons, 1-2 years before planting out.
The next step is space: where can you pot these seeds, how much space do you need for a small tree nursery? Answer is: start very small. You do not need to have a garden the size of a golf course to have a tree nursery, many tree nurseries start out in pots against a wall, or on window sills. Be prepared to work with a success rate of about 80 percent once the saplings are visible, that is a normal rate of survival if you are doing it non-commercially. If you are looking for a hundred percent success in growing ￼trees then you need a lab and a white coat.
Once the saplings are visible and growing, start to plan your out-planting with your local community and set a goal, for example: the goal is to reforest ___ hectares of land in ___ years, resulting in ___ trees being planted. A goal keeps you on track. Give yourself a challenge – a motto to work by is: “you’ll never get to the moon if you don’t reach for the stars”. Trees don’t care if the land is private or public, research both options for planting out your trees. If you are living in a rural community, your local farmer could be helpful or those around you living within larger estates. If you are in a more urban environment, I would suggest you contact other environmental groups and join them with their own out-plantings, the local wildlife trusts are usually looking for a local tree source. Make sure you note where your seeds were collected, they will want to know how local your trees are and their provenance. If that fails, then contact schools, parishes, councils, rangers, permaculture groups, tree wardens, Buddhist temples, Churches, Mosques, Pagan Moots and get them planting.
Initially a knee-jerk response from organisations and individuals is to say ‘No’. You need to be persuasive about why we need trees. When you make your first point of contact – with the local Council, for example – be informed about their policies with regard to tree planting and refer to this in your conversation. If local Councils are uncooperative, then speak to the organisers of local fetes, inaugurations, or remem- brance ceremonies; such events can all be enhanced through tree planting. You will be surprised at the possibilities and positive responses once you start inquiring. Warning: do not let the uncertainty of finding land determine your reforestation effort. Land is available – you only have to be prepared to do some research. If you live in Ireland you are in luck as according to a recent study, Ireland is the best country in the world for tree planting due to the availability of land and the need for trees. Mighty ancient temperate rainforest once grew in Ireland and the land remembers them.
If you have come this far in your planning and you have an area to out-plant, next is to establish the trees per hectare (or acres) ratio. (And remember: the more diverse the trees are that you plant, the healthier the ecosystem. Do some research on what song birds or invertebrates are endangered in your area and plant trees that would provide them a habitat. For example, a single oak tree harbours up to 400 invertebrates in its boughs.) It is often hard to visualise what an acre or hectare is. To simplify: a football pitch takes up about 2 acres. A hectare is a bit larger and measures precisely 100x100m. I find metres easiest to work with as they measure one, slightly exaggerated, human step. Also detailed maps use grid lines and the distance between these lines are 100m – note that each square covers exactly a hectare. How many trees you should plant to a hectare depends on the species of trees, microclimate and soil conditions. 400-500 trees per hectare is a good number to remember, and would allow space for the trees to mature. In a commercial plant- ation, 2,000 trees are planted per hectare, this is not reforestation, this is planting for maximum profit of harvesting timber. Do not plant less than 3m (10ft) diameter of space between the trees.
ON THE DAY
Before the tree planting day, invite your community, call your MP to come and join in – the more diverse the better – and invite local businesses, who knows, they may even support you by donating materials such as spades, bamboo canes and rabbit guards. On the day of the planting, introduce your goal to those present. Show them how to plant a tree before they start. As your reforestation programme will capture carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, protect water and soil, and provide social and ecological enhancements, it is worthy of celebrating. Bring, tea, cakes, musical instruments,and poetry. Planting trees whilst singing gives the saplings a great start!
Talking about starting a revolution is without content, it’s time we all started planting, then from the ashes, a green shoot will wake.