I Dig Trees guest blog: Planning a community tree planting event

Together we continue to smash our tree-planting targets for climate, wildlife and communities!

But we have only just begun. With the help of thousands of community groups and volunteers, we are going further than ever before with I Dig Trees, planting millions of FREE trees and creating pocket forests across the UK.

With this year’s planting reaching further than ever, we asked Crispin Beale, Founder & Chairman of 777 Conservation Volunteers, to tell us how he goes about setting up a tree-planting event with local volunteers.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. 

The second-best time is today.”

Whilst the origins of this quote are unclear, George W. White? Confucius? Chinese Saying? Jean Chretien? Earl Ubell? Anonymous? The sentiment could not be more true.

For more than 20 years as part of BTCV and now TCV I’ve been involved in planting trees and organising tree-planting events. There is huge satisfaction, years later, of seeing these trees start to shape the landscape but I recognise that the true benefit will be seen by my children and their children! Remember, many of the beautiful trees we see today were planted by people (or allowed to develop) 100s of years ago.

A young volunteer helps with the tree planting + a mature oak tree

It is very easy to be daunted by the prospect of organising an event but don’t be. A few simple steps will ensure a successful event and it’s better to do something than nothing at all … every single tree makes a difference.

777 Conservation Volunteers is a small charity that was formed in the 1980s and started as a group of school children picking up litter, raising money for the RSPB and WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and then creating mini-nature reserves on school grounds, churchyards and on other derelict sites. Whilst the group is less active almost 40 years on I still try to get involved with an annual TCV tree plant as it is an excellent opportunity for community groups and individuals throughout the UK to make a difference in their local areas … Kodak ran a conservation awards scheme many years ago with the tagline “Change where you live without moving away” – that concept and the more recent “Think Global, Act Local” has always resonated.

So a few top-tips from me…

Finding a tree planting site

Think of a site that will be accessible and secure long term – school grounds, churchyards, council land, nature reserves are all fantastic starting points. Alternatively, select a site on public land next to a footpath or a road so that it is easily accessible and visible to the public. Let people know what you are planning and spread the word – you’ll be amazed at how many suggestions come up from your network.

Volunteers helping with tree planting + a mature beech tree

Recruiting volunteer tree planters

Word of mouth helps but over the past four decades most of our volunteers came from local schools, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, Scout groups etc … but honestly, reach out to the organisers of as many societies and bodies as possible (over the years we went on Blue Peter and even the local hospital radio station to talk about what we do). Get coverage from your local newspaper/local radio station, even your local regional news station – tell them what you’re doing and invite them along on the day. Get the local Mayor involved, Councillors, the Parish Council, Residents Groups – we even had our local MPs come and join in and plant a tree.

Interest in the environment has grown over the years and people are surprisingly keen to get involved. You can also ask at work and get your own employer or other local companies involved – many companies now give staff “volunteer days” – some may even agree to sponsor drinks/refreshments for your volunteers.

I Dig Trees volunteers tree planting

Ordering your free trees

TCV make the whole process really easy – we always go for a mix of trees to give as much variety and ecological interest as possible. We also think hard about how many trees we’ll need for the location, and whether we might need to order some additional ones if we run out. Using canes and tree guards is essential if you have deer or rabbits on site, to give as much protection as possible and so you can easily identify where the plants are. Rabbits and deer can seriously damage your new planting so be prepared!

Health & Safety

Do be mindful of risks. Encourage people to wear sensible footwear (wellingtons/boots/shoes) and gloves. Nobody wants to be wearing flip-flops and tread a spade onto their toes or get a splinter from the canes! You should also be mindful of the site where you are planting – are there moving vehicles nearby or ponds young children could run towards and fall in … Don’t let this sound off-putting, a little time spent performing a risk assessment and briefing everyone is so important to ensure your event is safe and successful.

A volunteer and her baby helping to plant young whips + an oak leaf canopy

Planting trees on the big day

Over the years we’ve had events that are too hot, too cold, snow, raining, windy … it doesn’t matter. Have fun and “make a difference”. Don’t expect all the volunteers will be perfect tree planters – give a quick briefing at the start, telling everyone how to plant and explain what species you are planting and how they will benefit wildlife.

TCV has a training video to help with tree-planting techniques that you can share with your volunteers. There’s also the TCV tree library to help you with information about the species you are planting and their benefits to wildlife.

Be pragmatic though, it always helps if someone experienced checks after the event that canes have been pushed in far enough – trees are firmly “trodden in”- and that tree guards go right down to the ground!

Post-event wrap-up

Wherever possible it helps to put mulch around the trees to stop the weeds or to ensure they are mown/weeded around in the early years until they become established. It also helps if the trees can be watered in the first few years if the Summer is particularly dry. If you are planting larger numbers of trees this is probably impractical. Don’t worry though, don’t be put off by the maintenance issues – there are always people happy to help and also the trees are remarkably resilient – it’s better to have a go than to worry about perfection and never actually getting any event off the ground. You can find tree planting tips over here.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and if you take one thing away from this piece it is “Give it a go”. TCV will help and make this easy and whether you plant 50 trees as an individual (I’ve done this some years) or arrange a whole team, you’re making a difference for generations to come.



With the help of people like you, we are planting millions of healthy trees for climate, wildlife and for communities. Are you in? Claim your FREE trees here.

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