The seed of our Trees for Reading initiative was planted in August 2018, when a friend of mine, an ecologist based in the Peruvian Amazon, asked whether we had thought of a tree sponsorship campaign.
One of my fellow sustainability team members, Willem, jumped on the idea and drew up a plan that evolved to form the basis of the initiative. Our key aim is to give local businesses the chance to make a tangible contribution to making Reading a better place to live and work, by helping to fund the planting and care of trees around the town.
Urban trees can make a huge difference to the local environment, helping to cut air pollution, regulate the temperature, reduce flooding and erosion and increase biodiversity. By improving the ambience, they can bring some amazing social benefits too, including improving mental and physical wellbeing. You can read more in our support document.
Making it happen
We launched the initiative at Thames Lido, in November 2019. A few months earlier the lido team had approached us with the generous offer of donating all the proceeds from their new car parking charge to Trees for Reading. We couldn’t have wished for a better start.
We planted our first tree – an Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ – in front of the lido to mark the launch.
The council sets a budget for tree planting each year. Since 2018-19 that has been reduced due to central government funding cuts, which have sadly affected tree planting budgets across the country. As a result, they were only able to plant 127 that year compared to 242 the year before.
In March 2020 the council released its new Tree Strategy. This included a target to increase Reading’s overall canopy cover by 25% by 2050. They have since changed the target date to 2030, but they acknowledge that they will need additional financial input from schemes like ours to make that happen.
Deciding where to plant our trees
We always planned to focus, as much as possible, on adding more trees in the town centre. From our initial discussions with the council we realised it might be challenging to find planting places in the most built-up central areas, due to
the high level of hardstanding and the concentration of underground utilities. So we decided to aim for planting:
- 10% of the trees within the IDR
- 50% in other areas that would benefit most, like deprived neighbourhoods and schools
- 40% elsewhere in the borough
As it happens our initial instincts were right, and iTree Canopy data confirms that Abbey ward, which makes up much of the town centre, has just 11.6% tree cover. Some of the more deprived wards, such as, Whitley and Katesgrove, fare even worse, with 8 and 10.4% tree cover. That compares to 32% in Mapledurham.
Reading tree coverage map from forestry.maps.arcgis.com
Sadly, there is a real correlation between tree cover and social deprivation. A 2017 meta-analysis of research into the relationship between urban tree cover and income concluded that ‘there appear to be substantial levels of urban forest cover inequity with respect to income’.
We’d like to level things up a bit here in Reading!
Our first season’s trees
In the 2019-20 planting season we planted eight trees, which you can see on the interactive map on our Trees for Reading page. Seven were funded by Thames Lido. These include three in front of the Lido itself, three between Bath Road and Granville Road and one next to the Vastern Road roundabout.
As you can see, these are not little whips we’re putting in, but substantial young trees. They make an immediate impact but need watering for the first two years to help them get established. The council have committed to doing that as part of our agreement.
The trees will be marked with plaques so anyone passing will be able to see how they came to be there.
We also planted one very special tree funded by the community, through a JustGiving campaign. That one we planted in conjunction with Brighter Futures for Children, to help children in care feel Rooted in Reading. The idea actually came from a 14-year-old boy who was starting to feel like he was losing his connection with his hometown after being placed in a permanent foster home outside Reading.
What can you do to help?
We’ve just launched a second crowdfunding campaign, on Crowdfunder, and I’m delighted to say that we’re already more than halfway to our target of £500. If you would like to contribute, that would be amazing!
You can find the campaign at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/trees-for-reading.
Thank you for helping us make Reading a greener, healthier and happier place to live and work.