10 things the Church needs to know about tree growing


Earlier this year, Operation Noah announced an expansion of our Bright Now campaign to encourage the Church of England to manage its land more sustainably, alongside our work on fossil fuel divestment and investment in climate solutions.

Sharon Hall, our Bright Now Campaign Officer who is leading our work on land use, shares why it is important for Churches to grow trees and what can be done to support this work.

1. Trees are good for humanity, wildlife and the planet 

“There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little and builds itself!  It’s called… a tree” (George Monbiot). 

Trees are some of our greatest allies in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While carbon dioxide removal technologies are still only available at small scale and very expensive, trees do this job while also being good for humans, wildlife and the planet. It’s important to say that we also need to be reducing emissions from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

2. Mature trees are the best

The quickest and most effective trees in absorbing carbon are the ones that are already mature.  

As a first step, we need to protect the mature trees that are absorbing carbon dioxide, providing shade and wildlife habitats and supporting the water cycle.  Cutting down mature trees for mining projects, to grow animal feed, graze cattle or even plant new trees is a disaster for our planet.  Deforestation in the Amazon last month was the worst in modern records.

3. Not all tree planting schemes are good for the environment

Growing new trees can be very worthwhile, so long as we do it wisely.  This means planting the right trees in the right places and looking after them, so they grow well and store carbon for a long time. 

Unfortunately, some big tree planting projects have floundered and ended up with most of the saplings dying.  Some projects have planted trees that are unsuitable to the local climate or local biodiversity – we generally need a variety of species, mostly native to the area although some hardy trees from warmer regions may be suitable as the temperature rises. 

4. Tree growing is better than tree planting

An informative FaithInvest and WWF webinar in April on faith-based tree growing, which is available to view online, emphasised the importance of tree growing rather than tree planting. This recognises the longer process of increasing mature tree cover, rather than just the initial planting of saplings.  There is lots of advice on planting and caring for trees from The Woodland Trust.

5. There are inspiring examples of faith-based tree growing from our neighbours in the Global South

Faith-based projects can be successful in increasing care for trees and commitment to their protection and growth. Revd Dr Rachel Mash shared some wonderful examples on the above webinar, including Bishop Brighton Vitta Malasa in Malawi, who is passionate about growing trees and has been able to distribute trees to celebrate baptisms as he travels around for these. EcoSikh have also created some impressive sacred forests in India.

6. The Church Commissioners have a long way to go to catch up with other landowners

The Church Commissioners, one of the three Church of England National Investing Bodies, do have some forestry investments, but in terms of tree coverage on Church-owned land, the proportion is very low compared to other landowners.  Research from campaigner Guy Shrubsole has estimated that only 3-4% of Church Commissioners’ land is wooded, in contrast with 15% of Crown land and 10% of RSPB land.

7. There are a wide range of schemes providing free trees and support for tree growing in the UK

These vary from supplying trees for small community projects (starting at 15-420 free trees through the Queen’s Green Canopy), through to funded projects needing a minimum area of one hectare (English Woodland Creation Offer) and then more advice and planning support for larger areas (at least 5 hectares) through a Woodland Creation Planning Grant. Major landowners with over 50 hectares to plant can consider the Forestry England Woodland Partnership. There are other schemes particularly for Urban Tree Planting, such as the Urban Tree Challenge Fund. Land which is currently under-used farmland might be suited to agroforestry projects.

8. We need to plant trees at the right time

Tree planting season in the UK runs from October to March, and planning and gaining agreement for tree growing takes some time. The Queen’s Green Canopy are currently taking orders for delivery in November 2022, and applications for the English Woodland Creation Offer take 3-5 months to be approved. To plant trees by March 2023, applications need to be in by October at the latest.

9. Trees aren’t the only solution

Growing trees is not the only nature-based solution to the climate crisis – peatland, grassland and wetland areas such as saltmarsh are also important carbon sinks. Planting trees in these areas can be counterproductive, particularly where peatlands have degraded to become a net emitter of carbon dioxide. Protecting diverse habitats also has big benefits for biodiversity, and it’s good to consider joining initiatives like ‘No Mow May’ to allow more wildflowers to support bees and other pollinators.

10. June is a great month for Churches to get inspired to take action on the environment

There are many ways to learn more and get involved in June. For instance, you can join in the citizen science project Churches Count on Nature, gathering wildlife records in churchyards, which runs from 4-12 June. The Church of England Environment Programme is running a selection of accompanying webinars, including one on Finding Faith in Trees.  Which ones could you attend?

Watch this space for more details on how you can get involved in our campaign for the Church of England to manage its land more sustainably, for the benefit of people, wildlife and the planet.

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