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Planting hope

Could planting nine trees per person per year be the answer to the climate and biodiversity crises?
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Tawny Wood, a 9Trees planting site

This article first appeared in our Earth Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 22 April 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

The average person in the UK emits nine tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, and the average broadleaf tree sequesters a tonne of carbon over its lifetime.

If we all committed to planting a highly achievable nine trees every year, the impact on the greenhouse effect would be huge – and we would collectively help to cool the climate for future generations.

This is the logic of Michael Cunningham and Ash Kent, co-founders of 9Trees.

Michael was looking for a practical way to balance his own carbon footprint – and help others do the same – as a way to tackle the climate crisis.

Michael and Ash embarked on an ambitious mission to help people plant nine trees per year, through a pioneering not-for-profit that allows individuals and businesses to grow their own woodlands and balance their carbon footprint.

Trees protected for 50 years

9Trees is the only organisation of its kind to link landowners and the UK public in an effort to slow climate change.

‘Starting in Wales in 2019 we now have 15 sites across England, Wales and Scotland – and now Northern Ireland as well’, Michael tells us. ‘From Dorset to Derbyshire, Carmarthen to Anglesey and an Agroforestry site in Fife, we are branching out to a county near you!’

With backgrounds in conservation, Michael and Ash both know there is much more to this process than putting trees in the ground.

9Trees has 50 stages before woodland is planted, including finding an altruistic landowner, conducting desk-based surveys, mapping and creating a 50-year management plan and developing a planting plan.

Each site is visited beforehand and checked to ensure the existing habitat is not more valuable than a planted woodland would be.

‘We choose trees that will create a valuable biodiverse wildlife habitat for the future’, Ash explains. ‘Trees are planted efficiently, in the right places, and are safeguarded for 50 years.’

9Trees works with landowners, organisations and councils to source land and grows native broadleaf saplings in the UK. Work and maintenance are carried out by professional tree-planting contractors who are local to the site, which helps to bring money into rural communities and the countryside sector.

Visit your own woodland

There are different ways businesses can get involved – ‘we know that one size doesn’t fit all’, Michael acknowledges – and start balancing their carbon footprint.

One-off donations, annual subscriptions or monthly tree contributions can be made to 9Trees or to the biodiversity fund.

Alternatively, a business or organisation can opt for a bespoke approach, planting a tree per client, employee of the month or with a percentage of profits. ‘We love working with our business partners in a range of ways’, says 9Trees director Yzabella Hill; ‘from SMEs to FTSE 100 companies, we all have a role to play.’

But is there a danger that tree planting just gives organisations free rein to continue with business as usual?

‘It’s our intention to prevent a culture of offsetting that could lead to the continuation of environmentally damaging behaviour’, Michael tells us. ‘Certificates confirm the purchase of trees but cannot be used to gain carbon credits; instead, 9Trees is about a company’s CSR, ESG and carbon neutrality. Woodlands are created for biodiversity and wellbeing and are additional to tick-box exercises.’

Once you subscribe you can visit your trees; following the parameters of a ‘walkabout sheet’, you can wander mindfully in your very own woodlands or show them to your team, clients, family or friends.

9Trees also organises educational and hands-on events at its sites, as well as Team Green Away Days and Eco Therapy sessions to help boost employee wellbeing.

9Trees has already planted 15,000 broadleaf trees in the UK, and a further 10,000 trees are pledged to be planted in the 2024 planting season.

‘Our smaller woods will usually start at about 500 trees, which requires half an acre of land’, Ash explains. ‘It doesn’t have to be just woodland; we can plant habitat corridors, shelter belts and wildlife hedges as well.’

Each tree planted will sequester roughly 22kg of carbon per year. In addition to the carbon-balancing impact, the planted trees will help to bring back biodiversity, tackle climate change, create meaningful jobs in the countryside sector and promote wellness through nature.

Over the next 50 years the woodlands will be inhabited by a wild assortment of creatures, nesting and resting among native trees in a thriving habitat for pine martens and other endemic native species.

Each individual step will support a movement towards carbon neutrality and a rich, biodiverse planet – for us and for generations to come.

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