A local man’s suggestion to plant around two thousand trees in Shaftesbury – one for every younger resident – has quickly gained support from environmental body Planet Shaftesbury and the town’s Tree Group, which is now working on a tree-planting strategy.
Alfred’s Keri Jones reports.
“It was my wife,” said James Thrift. He isn’t taking credit for an idea to plant thousands of trees, which has excited some civic-minded locals. “We were in bed on a Sunday morning and she sent me an email, whilst she was lying next to me. It was a link to Manchester where somebody had this idea to plant three million trees because there are three million people in Manchester.”
James initially considered planting 7,300 trees to represent every single Shaftesbury resident. After the June meeting of the Shaftesbury Tree Group, James reduced the goal to 1,896 trees, which matches the 2017 government estimate of the number of locals aged 17 or under.
“It is a really good idea to have a big target that people can latch on to and support,” said Tree Group and Planet Shaftesbury member Robin Walter. As a professional forestry advisor, Robin believes that space can potentially be found for a large number of new trees. “It depends on what kind of trees they are and how you plant them. If you’re talking about individual street trees, at 10 or 20-metre spacing, then that’s a lot of trees. If you were to plant a hectare of trees, you could plant a couple of thousand easily. One greenfield or brownfield site, or screening an industrial park, could get a lot of trees in,” Robin observed, before suggesting a site which could tie-in with the young person theme. “The school playing fields,” he said. “Obviously you are not going to plant over them, but you could plant around them in terms of shelterbelts.”
James’ idea was to plant trees that add colour and create a sense of occasion. “If you have been down to the Donkey Field, the community orchard, in the spring, the blossom is absolutely astonishing. At the end of the year, there could be apple pressing and the wassailing. You have a double whammy. We can benefit from all these beautiful trees, but some community thing can be built around it,” said James.
Bernard Ede is a landscape architect who works with the town’s Open Spaces Group and Shaftesbury Tree Group. He thinks that James’ idea has merit. “Ideas like that can be achieved within an overall strategy. Something spectacular in the spring would be wonderful. What I wouldn’t advocate would be a mishmash, with too much colour and too much quirkiness,” cautions Bernard.
That’s why Bernard and the Shaftesbury Tree Group have been working on guidelines to determine which type of tree would work best in each part of town. This ‘manifesto for trees’ would suggest which species would be most suited to each of the eight historic character areas of Shaftesbury, defined in the ‘Shaftesbury Design Guidelines’ portion of the Neighbourhood Plan.
The look and feel of St James’, for example, is very different from the area along Grosvenor Road. Tree planting should reflect these localised differences and Bernard wants this tree style guide to be incorporated in the Neighbourhood Plan development blueprint. “The Tree Group has prepared a list of recommended tree planting species, ranging from the woodland type planting, the natural trees which would occur if the land were just left, through to parkland trees and wind tolerant trees,” he said. Bernard and his colleagues have also identified which trees are most attractive to bird and bees and they’ve suggested the species which are better suited to car parks.
As we chatted on a bench on Park Walk, Bernard picked up a piece of paper and read out a statement, handwritten in pencil. It is a vision for our town’s tree-filled future that he would like people and the powers-that-be to sign up to. “The town of Shaftesbury recognises the grandeur and the value of healthy, abundant trees. They should be a source of pride of residents and an example to others of a healthy and stimulating environment,” said Bernard.
He believes that a consultant should be hired to survey Shaftesbury and identify suitable places for planting trees. “I think the principal should be the right tree in the right place,” Bernard said, before producing another document, an aerial photograph with every tree highlighted in vivid yellow. The bright colour made areas with a lack of trees stand out.
“The old parts of town have larger trees and more of them. There weren’t trees planted systematically in the estate to the east. There could be a degree of retrofitting of tree planting in areas of housing and on the trading estates,” said Bernard.
He believes that we should build up a ‘cover’ of trees across parts of the town. “There is a concept now of ‘urban forestry’, where you create a canopied environment within urban areas. You can transform a hard surface area. On The Commons, there could be a well-placed canopy tree that people could sit under,” said Bernard.
And Robin Walter agrees that a well-positioned tree or two could enhance our town centre. “We don’t have anything in the High Street or down near the Town Hall. A single tree in either of those places would be a magnificent contribution,” said Robin.
The tree planting project could include larger ‘statement’ trees in prominent positions, and this was discussed by the Tree Group. “There was talk of putting a big planter, like a massive flower pot, with a semi-mature tree in it. It’s not the best way as it is very expensive. You want to start off with a tree three or four metres tall, give it good protection and then let it grow to full size,” said Robin.
He added the caveat that no tree should be planted without considering the impact its roots might have on the infrastructure below. “It’s very important to check for underground services – drains, water, electric and gas mains, all that kind of stuff,” warned Robin.
James’ suggestion was focused on how trees could enhance the town’s appearance and, if fruit-bearing, could potentially encourage community events at harvest-time. Bernard says there are environmental benefits to consider too. “There are trees which lock up carbon and release oxygen. There are trees that filter out particulate pollution, whether it’s airborne pollution or pollution from vehicles,” he said.
The Tree Group has cautiously considered this task. They say that trees, particularly semi-mature specimens, would need to be carefully sourced from trusted growers to avoid importing disease. They also stress that planting trees requires an ongoing commitment. “The long-term management is important, not just to plant a tree and walk away from it. It needs watering, fertilising and pruning,” said Bernard.
Planting two thousand trees might seem an arduous task, which could take years. Whilst a staggered approach may prove more realistic, Robin says mass-planting is not unachievable. “If you’re planting small trees close together, you could easily plant a couple of thousand in a day. But if you’re having to take up paving slabs and plant them individually with stakes and metal guards, that’s going take a long time and obviously cost a lot of money,” Robin advised.
And the cost will vary according to the size and species. “If you’re buying little trees, a foot tall, and you’re going to plant them in a hedge, you’d be paying something like 50p each. If you’re going to plant ‘whips’, at waist height, four-foot-tall with a few side branches on it, they would cost a quid or two. If you were planting a standard, which you might plant in the street with a stake and a guard around it, it would cost £10 or £20. A nice metal guard will add a lot more. It’s hard to be accurate,” said Robin.
Finding funding sources and securing permissions will require more discussion and there will be many more meetings before any volunteers get to sink their spades, but James’ idea has clearly struck a chord with some of our community’s drivers. “What we’d like to do is open the whole process up and engender public enthusiasm,” said Bernard.
And Robin agrees. “It fires the imagination,” he said. “You say ‘yes, let’s do that as a town’. Everyone could be involved, anyone who is interested in their local environment, which is pretty much all of us.”