An interview with Trees for Cities’ Sharon Johnson

Written by on August 29, 2011 in Interviews - No comments
Trees by Crisologo

The Victorians did many important things for us, not least planting enough trees to make London one of the leafiest capital cities on the planet. Strolling round London’s vast parks with their towering oaks and bushy planes, it’s hard to believe that the city has a dwindling tree stock. But most of our magnificent trees were planted over 100 years ago, and ever since the onus on planting has waned. That was, however, until 1993, when five young Londoners decided to form a charity called Trees for London, intent on planting in the more leaf-deprived parts of the city and replacing our ageing tree stock. I talked to chief executive Sharon Johnson to find out more about the charity and its Tree-Athlon event that is happening next month.

What can we expect to find at this year’s Tree-Athlon on 17 September?

The main events at the Tree-Athlon in Battersea Park are a 5km run, in which more than 1,000 people will take part, and a barefoot 100m world record attempt. We want people to take off their shoes for trees and connect with nature. We set the world record last year, but it was broken by India almost immediately, so we’re attempting to break that record again this year. We also have Chris Collins the Blue Peter gardener coming along, there will be workshops on tree planting, a dedicated kids zone, live music and everyone gets a free limited edition Giles Deacon t-shirt. We hope to get 2,000 coming out on the day. Everyone gets a free tree to take home and plant, or donate back to one of our community projects.

Plane tree

A London plane tree, by mf31/Flickr

Where does the charity plant?

We plant trees in parks, we have a strong programme of street tree planting, we create edible gardens, but we also do lots of work in community gardens and on housing estates. Often people living on housing estates have access to open space but no private garden, so we aim to create community space by planting new trees. In London we have 25 projects in development – this year we planted 10,000 trees in a week to create new woodland in Roding Valley, Redbridge. We also make sure we work with communities to maintain their projects on an ongoing basis.

Do you think it’s important to educate children about trees?

We do a lot of planting in schools and think it’s very important to educate young children about trees. The charity runs an edible playground project in schools, where we look at fruit and nut trees, food miles and try to engage children as to where food comes from.

Trees in Hyde Park, by mnadi/Flickr

What has been among the charity’s biggest success stories?

One stand out success is the edible playground project we launched at Rotherfield Primary School in Islington. We really wanted to find a school that shared the same vision as us, and we’ve been working with them for almost two years now to create a fantastic edible garden. Now, all the work and the activities in the garden are embedded into their curriculum, and the school is building a classroom kitchen, so the children can harvest the fruit and vegetables they grow and learn how to cook with them. The garden is very much part of the school life.

Why did the charity change its name to Trees for Cities?

We were Trees for London until 2003, and on our 10th anniversary we changed our name to Trees for Cities. It was in response to other cities hearing about what we had done in London and wanting to replicate our model in their city. We began working in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Reading and Nottingham, and we now have a project in Dublin, which started earlier this year. Internationally, we work in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Nirobi in Kenya, Ica in Peru and La Paz in Bolivia. Right now the charity is working in 15 cities worldwide, and in next year we want to be present in 25 cities.

How can readers get involved in tree planting?

Anyone can get involved. Just visit our website, and go onto our volunteering page , or give us a call on 020 7820 4416.

The Tree-Athlon takes place on 17 September in Battersea Park from 9am

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About the Author

Rachel Bull

When I'm not looking after the three men in my life - Mr LULR and our two tabbies Cosmo and Murray - I spend most of my time crafting, growing, writing and exploring the city to find inspiring LULR content for you to enjoy.

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