Guest blog: 2,000 trees and counting

by Janet Willoner

29th November, 2022

“How can I make a contribution to mitigating the climate crisis when I don’t have land that can be rewilded?”

This was the question I asked myself three years ago when I watched my grandchildren make their voices heard through the Climate Strike movement. If school children can find a way to make a difference then surely an adult (albeit an elderly one) can do something too?

I didn’t feel drawn to join Extinction Rebellion and of the areas that Zero Carbon identify as needing changing, carbon sequestration was the one that appealed to me.
‘That’s fine,’ I thought, ‘I can plant trees!’

But, could I? Tramping over rough ground and digging holes in stoney soil was no longer within my ability range. There must be something I could do. After all, I’m alive right now at this crucial time in human history when so much needs doing. How can I face future generations and admit that I did nothing?

Then, out of the blue, inspiration arrived!

‘If I can’t plant trees, then I can grow them! I can forage for seeds in the hedgerows, germinate them and grow the trees on. A lot of trees acclimatised to the local area are going to be needed very soon. But I have no where to plant them out. What am I going to do with them?’

‘You can worry about that later. It’s September, just get collecting seeds before it’s too late,’ I told myself.

And so began my tree growing project.

Credit: Janet Willoner

At first, I told no one what I was doing in case the seeds didn’t germinate and then I thought I’d look really silly. I waited all winter protecting the hazel nuts and acorns from the mice.

As lock down hit us the first acorn shoots appeared above the soil. I was so excited!
The hazel, alder and rowan seedlings soon followed. I was kept so busy pricking them all out that I never noticed lockdown!

Our local recycling bin for tetra packs had disappeared and it grieved me to just bin them, so I decided to use them as plant pots. Several friends and neighbours saved theirs for me and I often came home to find a pile on the doorstep.

About this time I attended a volunteer work day at ‘Make it Wild’. I was impressed by the fact that they didn’t just plant trees but they continued to look after them. When I offered them my saplings Helen and Chris were very appreciative and in the Autumn I passed about 400 trees on to them. They were planted in Nidderdale where they would link two areas of ancient woodland.

I had about 100 trees that weren’t tall enough to be planted out. I had no room to store them for another year so offered them to Longlands Common who were starting a tree nursery. Even the small trees found a home!

Many friends and neighbours have been inspired to help in various ways, for example by watering when I’m away, by humping and heaving the bags of compost, collecting cartons, and repairing infrastructure when it breaks down. I am grateful to them all.

At the end of my third year, with the birth of the 2,000th tree, the project has become a way of life! I find it enormously satisfying to know that I’m doing my (little) bit for the climate and for biodiversity. Being involved with collecting and growing seeds connects me to the miracle of nature and to the seasons. It brings me much joy.

My project may be a drop in the ocean, but an ocean is made up of many drops!