Shaftesbury residents will be encouraged to get involved in a major programme of tree planting. The Town Council has backed a five-year plan designed to increase tree cover, particularly in the east of town, as a climate emergency response.
A strategy for making Shaftesbury leafier has been given the green light by the council’s Recreation and Open Spaces Committee. It’s chairman, Cllr George Hall, said the Shaftesbury Tree Group’s action plan is formidable.
“I’ve been on the council for five years and this is the most impressive piece of work I have seen from an external body in this town. It’s well thought out. It’s thorough. An enormous amount of time and effort has gone into this. It’s a wonderful addition to the town,” said George.
There is an issue to address. Parts of Shaftesbury have too few trees.
“I recently came across a website that maps tree cover by ward,” explained chartered forester and Tree Group member, Robin Walter. “West Shaftesbury has something like 22% tree cover. That’s quite a large area and includes the wooded bits of Enmore Green and St James. That’s pretty good, although there’s always room for more. On the east side, it was something like 7% or 8%. A shocking difference. The Woodland Trust recommend that new developments aim for 30% tree cover. I’ve heard a figure from a local authority association that 20% is as a reasonable target. The west is already there. The east has a long way to go.”
Shaftesbury Tree Group has assessed forty open spaces owned by the Town Council and identified sixteen sites suitable for tree or hedgerow planting. The work will be done in stages. Barton Hill Recreation Ground, the Cockram’s Field area, Castle Hill and Mampitts Cemetery will be first. “In the first year of planting, next winter, there are one or two places we’re going to plant on the east side,” said Robin. Eight field maples will be planted to ‘make the cemetery look less bare’.
Barton Hill Recreation ground is also getting more trees. “At the moment there are hedges along the Christy’s Lane side. Working down from the roundabout at Ivy Cross, there’s a hedge with mature trees next to the skateboard park. As you go further south, the hedge continues but there are no big trees. We’re planning to ‘beef up’ the hedge to keep pollution out of the play areas and have large trees to continue the line along Christy’s Lane,” said Robin. “They will take a few decades to mature but you’ve got to think ahead in in tree planting. In twenty or thirty years, they’ll be sizeable trees.”
The Tree Group has identified suitable species. “The trees on the verge are mostly beech. The trees along by the skate park mostly lime. We are going for lime along that edge.” Robin says the choice of tree takes into account the environmental crisis. “We’re expecting hotter summers and wetter winters in this part of the world as a result of climate change. Lime is one of the trees that should do fairly well in that,” he said.
Eighteen more trees will be added around Cockram’s Field. “There are some fabulous mature trees on the corner, near the Youth Club. We are going to plant a line along the north side of Coppice Street, above the wall and above the hedge, spaced about every eight metres or so. We are going to put hornbeam there. There’s the football pitch with a big fence. Between there and the road we are going to put some birch trees. They will not cause too much shade on the grass of the pitch. It will be one side of an avenue. And as it’s on the north side of the road, it won’t be casting shade on anybody’s garden,” explained Robin.
Almost four hundred trees will be added around Castle Hill. On the north side of the Hardy Way footpath to St John’s Hill, six specimen trees of English oak and goat willow will be installed. A cluster of 315 trees will be planted at the south west corner of this land.
In year two of the project, Park Walk, Pine Walk, Great Ground Garden, Wincombe Recreation Ground and Wincombe Play Area will get more trees. There will be additional planting along road verges.
Between 2022 and 2023 the Castle Hill Close Play Area, Enmore Green Triangle and Community Field will receive more planting. Trees will be added to the Mampitts Square area too, although Robin says the team need to wait until the land is transferred to the Town Council’s ownership.
In year four of the project, extra trees will be installed around the Gower Road play area. Then a free tree scheme for gardens will be launched. Robin hopes that residents will take up the offer. “Especially on the east side, if people are interested in having even a small ornamental tree in their garden. I’m hoping we can talk to people about what type and size of tree would be suitable for different gardens and help people to plant them and look after them,” said Robin.
The Tree Group has started discussions with local schools about planting on their land. Shaftesbury School pupils have been particularly keen to engage after a recent school trip. “They calculated the carbon of their bus trip and then wanted to plant trees. We’ve been helping with those calculations. Particularly on those large football and rugby fields, they’re quite keen to have a few trees dividing up the fields for shade and a bit landscaping,” said Robin.
The tree plan makes provision for setting up a tree nursery, so locals can grow their own rather than buying from commercial providers. Robin says the school wants to play a part in this, too. “The school have found some areas that they want to turn into a tree nursery. That’s a great school project – gathering seed and berries, propagating, lining them out and transplanting. Then, on a wider scale across the town, we can collect local seeds, grow acorns, grow sweet chestnuts and beech nuts. Lime doesn’t tend to set fertile seed but most of the other species do. If we find a suitable place this year, then next autumn we can collect the seed and then get them in the ground.”
The Tree Group is aware that locals need to understand the project and support its ongoing development for it to succeed. “This isn’t all about planting,” Tree Group member Sue Clifford told the Town Council meeting. “It is useless to keep saying, ‘We will plant three million trees by Friday’. Everybody is saying that, and it is nonsense.”
Sue said that, as townspeople, ‘We need to take responsibility for our locality’. The group hopes to form teams of ‘wood, hedge and tree wardens’. Sue would like to teach residents ‘how to plant trees, know how to collect free trees all around us and how to look after nurseries in their bit of town or even in their gardens’.
Robin was pleased that councillors appreciated the need for residents to drive the project. “I was very pleased that the council, whilst approving the plan, approved a community engagement programme over the coming year. Our planting is going to happen over the winter of 2020 to 2021. We’ve got all this year to talk to people who are adjacent to some of the places we’ve identified, to seek their views. Perhaps they’ve got some good ideas as well,” he said.
One Town councillor offered his suggestions of tree types during the meeting. Cllr Andy Hollingshead has seen a native crab apple tree in Semley and would like more in Shaftesbury. “Crab apples are quite an unusual tree,” said Robin. “We’re very keen on native trees. They’ll form the core of what we’re planting. Also naturalised trees that have been here for centuries – things like sweet chestnut. There are some fine examples of those in Shaftesbury already. Crab apple is very good for wildlife, with lovely flowers for insects and there’s fruit, obviously. We can include that.”
The tree planting project will commence in November and the Town Council will offer £3,000 for the first year. Community enterprise Build Love, who help eligible Guy’s Marsh prisoners gain new work-based skills, will be asked to help construct tree guards for the trees that require structural support. The Town Council has successfully collaborated with the local not-for-profit organisation on the Bell Street toilets and Oasis Pool refurbishments.
“They’re thinking about the management of it and how the tree is going to look in twenty years, fifty years and a hundred years. The experts there have done a fabulous job,” enthused Cllr George Hall.
Before next winter’s programme launches, some trees will be planted around the Ash Close play area, a space that some residents know as ‘The Spider Park’. The eight trees, a mixture of Italian alder, field maple, hornbeam, sweet chestnut and sycamore, will be planted along with 450 hedgerow ‘whips’. The plan is to provide more trees for shade and hedging but the tree group is aware that they cannot cause problems for the council’s grounds team, who mow the field.
Councillors recognised the need to consult locals. Cllr Jeanne Loader has offered to personally deliver information leaflets, so Ash Close residents are aware of the proposals before planting starts. That is likely to take place over a weekend early in March.
Tree Group member Bernard Ede shared his enthusiasm for the project with councillors. He told the meeting, “The tree plan should put a small but growing market town even further on the map.”