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Tree Health Survey for Big Green Week

June 28th, 2024

“Trees are our friends.”

The day started with talks in James and Helen’s barn, on the importance of trees to us and our planet, and of citizen science. The children, pupils from Patterdale primary school, participated eagerly, keen to share their ideas on why trees are important to young people and why they love them. That they’re great for climbing in unsurprisingly came up several times and one eight-year-old already knew about mycorrhizal networks!

We then talked about deforestation in the UK and other parts of the world, before exploring factors which affect tree planting, restoration and survival. James and Helen spoke about how they manage their own farm to make space for nature, and Rebecca from the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre explained the importance of surveying Cumbrian biodiversity, so that we can understand the variety of wildlife present in the county and are better informed to protect it.

In small groups, we then went to look at a hedge that was planted four years ago. This was the first time the children had done a citizen science survey and they were very enthusiastic! They sampled along 50m of the hedge, looking at tree heights, species, number, the number which were dead, whether there were tree guards, and whether there were competing grasses and plants present.

The children were encouraged to look at land use and habitat types around the hedge and to start thinking about how the wildflowers might affect the nitrogen and other nutrients available to the trees. We found a lot of insects, particularly moths and butterflies – a golden ringed dragonfly was the wildlife highlight. The teachers said that it was a fantastic day: “We had lots of great feedback from the kids who loved the opportunity and would love to come back and do more.”

In the afternoon, 12 adult volunteers came to survey 100m of hedgerow. Some of them had participated in the planting four years ago, in the snow, so it was a great experience for them to return and see how their efforts had paid off! Interestingly, half of the hedgerow only had small trees, while the other half was growing very well. All of the data will contribute to a national research project led by the Tree Council on the success rate of tree-planting initiatives, enabling us to improve our planting and management.

This was an exciting day as not only did the pupils learn about nature-friendly farming and important ecological techniques, but it was the first time trialling a hedge survey with children. We have fed back on the huge success of the day to the Tree Council so they can involve young people across the country in collecting data in the future.

A big thank you to all our volunteers, helpers and speakers, especially James and Helen Rebanks and Patterdale primary school!