News story

First saplings planted in push for a million trees for schools

A Government-backed scheme will give millions of children the chance to plant saplings in their school grounds and communities.

Elizabeth Truss and Rory Stewart at Griffin Primary School in London
Elizabeth Truss and Rory Stewart at Griffin Primary School in London

Millions of schoolchildren across England will have the chance to plant saplings in their communities as part of a Government-backed scheme to give free trees to schools, which is being rolled out this spring in partnership with the Woodland Trust—on top of an existing Government commitment to plant 11 million trees by 2020.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss today visited Griffin Primary School in Wandsworth to mark the first phase of planting in the scheme, which has seen thousands of saplings planted already. The scheme, designed to help children learn about native UK trees and connect with the natural environment, will provide a million trees to schools in total, funded by Defra and the Woodland Trust.

Pupils at the school, one of nearly 800 that applied for packs of 30 saplings, planted silver birch, rowan and hazel trees in the school grounds, to create an outdoor ‘mini-forest’ classroom as an oasis for birds, bees and butterflies.

Speaking on what is also the UN’s International Day of Forests, the Environment Secretary said the tree-planting plans are a key part of a new Government campaign to connect children with nature that will launch later this year. This will not only benefit the local environment, but will also support the new national curriculum to ensure children can identify iconic native trees and help the next generation understand the benefits of a healthy environment for our prosperity and wellbeing.

Commenting on the success of the scheme so far, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:

Children across the country will be able to grow, learn about and identify native trees including birch, hawthorn and hazel, giving the chance to understand and connect with nature and make their school grounds and neighbourhoods cleaner and greener.

Woodland cover is at its highest since the 14th century, and it’s vital that children feel part of our natural history, connected to the environment in their day-to-day lives at school and in their communities. I am delighted that so many teachers have embraced the offer of free trees for their schools to create inspiring outdoor learning spaces for pupils.

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust said:

These children might never otherwise get a chance to plant a tree, but with this additional funding from Defra they’re going to get that chance. And that’s vitally important. We know from our research it’s a memory they’ll treasure for years to come, and often starts their relationship off with the natural world and all the benefits that brings.

This scheme offers schools that have found it hard in the past a new way to plant trees and bring an oasis of green into their community. With woodland cover in England at only 11%, one of the lowest in Europe, we welcome this important recognition of the intrinsic value of trees and nature to young people and their future.

Headteacher of Griffin Primary School Mr. Chris Beazeley said:

Outdoor classrooms are just as valuable as indoor ones. They bring interest and activity to lessons, giving children more drive and enthusiasm for learning. The trees will help us boost our nature area, creating habitats for wildlife and a living science lab.

Our school is in an urban area, and many of our children won’t have the opportunity to visit parks, or woods, or get up close to nature. By planting trees at school we can give them that experience; and teach lessons in an engaging way.

Many of our early years children prefer to learn outdoors—it is good for them physically, socially, and developmentally; and the trees will make our school a greener and more pleasant place.

Woodland cover in England is currently at its highest level since the 14th century at 11%. The Government is committed to growing it even further with a promise to plant another 11 million trees over the course of this parliament. This follows the Government’s planting of 11 million trees since 2010.

The school tree planting project will build on the Woodland Trust’s existing work to plant trees in schools and further afield via its Community & Schools Tree Packs, which have delivered 5.9 million new trees since 2010.

Launched in December, the scheme is already benefitting thousands of children by giving them a chance to learn about different types of trees and monitor their growth. Following excellent take-up of the first phase, it will be rolled out further in the next four years. As well as the 35,500 already delivered to schools as part of the pilot phase, the Government will directly fund 400,000 trees to be delivered by the Woodland Trust by 2020. This is in addition to 400,000 already being delivered by the Trust through its corporate-sponsored programme. The remaining trees will be funded through other partnerships, bringing the total to one million.


  • The Woodland Trust, the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK, is welcoming applications from state-funded primary schools for saplings to plant in their grounds or local communities. Schools can apply here and those that qualify will receive a pack of 30 young trees, enough to create a small copse or hedge, delivered in November 2016.

  • Research commissioned by the Woodland Trust shows that primary age children who take part in tree planting remember it as a significant experience, even into their teenage years; by planting trees they felt that they were ‘doing their bit’ to help the natural environment. A study by Kings College London concluded that the opportunity to learn in natural environments ‘makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning’.

  • This scheme is in addition to the government’s existing pledge to plant a further 11 million trees before 2020 through a combination of the £31m Woodland Creation Grant (part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme) and £19m Woodland Carbon Fund promised in the Spending Review to provide capital funding to secure additional carbon reductions through further tree planting.

  • Griffin Primary School in Wandsworth applied for two free packs of 30 saplings to plant in its grounds: a ‘copse’ pack to create an oasis for birds including silver birch, rowan and hazel; and a ‘hedge’ pack to create ‘wildlife corridors’ that help creatures like hedgehogs and dormice move more safely through the landscape, including Hawthorn, Hazel, Crab Apple, Dog Rose and Rowan.

  • For more information, please contact the Defra press office on 0207 239 1542 or the Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121.

Published 21 March 2016