Young eco warriors all across Essex have been digging deep to plant 1700 trees in schools and green spaces across the county.

Essex school children have been busy laying down roots for the last stretch of the Trees for Learning project – a special initiative from England’s Community Forests that’s helped a whole new generation to create an educational and environmental legacy.

The project is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA’s) pledge to support schools to plant one million trees across England by 2020.

Since the project launch in 2016, Thames Chase has planted 3955 trees with 1350 children, working in 30 different schools in towns and cities all over Essex. 

Community Forest staff have provided design advice, supported schools with planting and ensured plans are in place for long-term management of the trees and woods, meaning these new green spaces will be part of the landscape for decades to come. 

After each planting season, staff have revisited the schools to teach children all about their new environment, giving them scope to learn how trees link with other important issues such as ecosystems, climate change, health and wellbeing.

They’ve also created a toolkit, related to the National Curriculum, full of practical and creative ways to help schools use the natural world to help their pupils to learn

Clare Olver, from The Mersey Forest which coordinates the scheme, said: “This project has been all about capturing the hearts and minds of the next generation. 

“Children and young people like the inspirational Greta Thunberg are increasingly taking the lead in campaigning for action on climate change. Trees for Learning has helped us harness this wave of enthusiasm for the environment by engaging children with outdoor learning in schools across the country.”

“Planting trees has a particularly special significance for children as many of them will get to see their tree growing as they do,” said Becky Gibson, Team Leader of the Thames Chase Conservation Volunteers.

With an increasing body of evidence proving that access to green spaces and being amongst nature is good for us, this project also has huge benefits for children’s mental health and wellbeing. 

 “By making learning from trees part of their education we’re not only nurturing the planet’s future custodians; we are hopefully contributing to making them happier and healthier too,” said Mary Wright, Thames Chase Trustee.

As the project has grown, teachers across England have reported improvements amongst pupils in a range of areas including increased confidence, improved mental well-being and physical health, increased learning. They’ve also noted reductions in teacher stress due to improved student behaviour and the restorative effect of being in nature themselves.

Ed Caines, Headteacher at Woodside Academy, Grays decided on a moving way to mark Armistice Day with the children of his school with the help of the Thames Chase Conservation Volunteers.  The children each wrote a name on an individual wooden cross, which was then placed next to each planted tree, in remembrance of soldiers from the locality who fell in the two world wars. “This will hopefully also be an encouragement to water and sustain the trees so that they become a living memorial to a generation who largely never flew or drove,” said Ed Caines, Head Teacher, Woodside Academy, Grays.

“A huge thank you to Thames Chase for involving our school in such a great project. The children were buzzing with excitement, which is so delightful to see. It was lovely to have some members of our school community volunteering too,” said Trudy Spillane, Drapers Maylands Primary School, Harold Hill.

One teacher also said: “As a school we think outdoor learning opportunities are vital for a child’s growth. It’s clear to see that when they’re outside they demonstrate a wealth of skills and enthusiasm, while learning. It was evident when planting trees, they were curious to find out the different names, worked excellently in a team and being able to visit again in the summer term to observe how their trees have developed is a life experience they will remember.”

At Holly Trees Primary School, Brentwood, the last engagement before schools closed, the Deputy Head Byron Hocking invited parents and grandparents to work with groups of children alongside our volunteers. All had a great day, and 200 trees were planted. The Deputy Head remarked “I had a great day and so did our children and families. It was good to get parents and grandparents working alongside their children.” 

Over the last few months, our team have worked with 12 schools and over 700 children across the Community Forest and planted over 1700 native trees, leaving a lasting legacy with our future custodians.