"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

― Chinese proverb

To celebrate National Tree Week (Saturday 27 November – Sunday 5 December), Morwenna Alldis, Communications Officer for RSPB England, looks to our leafy friends as part of the UK’s largest annual celebration of trees, led by The Tree Council.

I’ve always been drawn to trees – I’m a self-confessed tree hugger and proud of it. When I was little, I hunted for fairy doors at the base of gnarly trunks, and as an adult, my feet lead me to trees when I need to escape my own head and feel grounded, rooted. Trees seem to insist on a moment of pause, as conversations drop to a hush, and ears tune into leaves whispering in the breeze and birdsong.

Now is the perfect opportunity for people to come together to share their love of trees by planting more at home, in their local community, and in schoolgrounds. For more information visit about National Tree week and how to get involved, visit here.

UK Government have also published this year their England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024, which outlines their long-term vision for trees, woodlands and forests in England and the actions they’ll take during this Parliament to achieve these ambitions.

Trees are incredible organisms, and they are vital to life on earth. Here are our top five reasons why they are so important:

  1. Lungs of the earth – Through the process of photosynthesis trees breath in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the air and breath out Oxygen (O2), which life on earth needs to survive. Trees are also amazing air filters; some species filter out pollutants and trap them on their bark and leaves.
  2. Tackling Climate Change – Increased levels of CO2 in our atmosphere, and not enough trees to remove it, creates the greenhouse effect. Higher levels of CO2 trap heat from the sun and cause global temperatures to rise. Nature is very carefully balanced, so these temperature changes have catastrophic impacts on wildlife, plants, and people. Right now, with climate change hammering at our doors, we need to look after our native trees and plant more, taking our own #MyClimateAction
  3. Homes for wildlife – did you know that an oak tree can support around 2300 species and that’s not including all fungi, bacteria, and micro-organisms? Trees provide essential food, shelter, and nesting sites for all sorts of birds, insects, mammals (including livestock and humans), and other organisms.
  4. Flood defences – when planted along water sources trees help to prevent soil erosion and reduce the amount of rainwater entering our water courses, lessening the chances of a river bursting its banks. This is particularly important as climate change increases the impact of flooding on our homes and businesses, and so we must look at natural solutions like this to reducing flooding.
  5. Wellbeing Studies have shown that time spent in forests and woodlands can reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels - the stress hormone, and even improve memory and ability to focus. Over recent years the Japanese practise of Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ has become popular in the UK too.

Trees in Trouble

Trees are an essential cornerstone to life on earth, but tragically they are seriously under threat and we’re not doing enough to help them. This autumn the Woodland Trust published the State of the UK’s Woods and Trees 2021 report. It’s the first report of its kind laying out the facts and trends on the current state of the UK's native woods and trees. The message is loud and clear – we urgently need to act to protect our native trees, restore damaged woods and plant more individual native trees in our landscapes. Whilst the report shows that we have doubled our UK woodland cover over the last 100 years, it found that most of this is non-native trees, which are less beneficial for our native wildlife and ecosystems. Whereas our native woodlands are in poor condition and the wildlife that depends upon them is declining.

How you can help

Take action for your local trees and become a tree champion. Find out about your local tree planting schemes and get involved. Or set up your own project with a local group, council, or school. There are some handy tips from The Tree Council here.

Plant a tree in your own garden to help to improve your local eco system and give your garden wildlife food and shelter. Share the results with us on social media, or through our dedicated wildlife gardening community page.

Here our top four species:

  1. Crab apple – crab apple blossoms are an important food source for insects including bees. Thrushes, robins, starlings and greenfinches feed on its fruit and you can turn any spare fruit into jams and preserves – just remember to leave plenty for wildlife!
  2. Birch – 521 species of invertebrates feed on birch and its catkins are loved by birds like greenfinches and redpolls.
  3. Rowanblackbirds, thrushes, waxwings, redstarts, starlings, and fieldfares all enjoy these autumn berries. 60 species of insect have been recorded feeding on members of the rowan family
  4. Holly – berries from holly bushes are an important food for birds as they can often be found long into the winter months (which is one of the reasons why the plant is synonymous with Christmas).It also provides sturdy and protective shelter from the winter elements and predators.

For an in-depth guide on which trees to plant for wildlife, click here.

So, celebrate trees this National Tree Week, by championing their protection, helping to plant a native species locally, and may be even hugging a few too. Our reserves across England showcase a wealth of fantastic trees and woodland, including the famous nation’s favourite tree, Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, which is estimated to be between 800 – 1100 years old. Find your nearest woodland to explore here: rspb.org.uk/reserves