Tawny Clark chooses her free tree – courtesy of the Welsh Government and Woodland Trust
As someone with a healthy obsession with living things, and never one to pass up a freebie, I’m perhaps a little over-keen for our outing to Coeden Fach tree nursery in Swansea.
We arrive so early there are no signs anywhere and we think we’re in the wrong place.
Having recently re-located, Coeden Fach is now tucked inconspicuously into a quiet corner of Clyne Gardens, which seems a shame, as we’re here for something we should all be shouting about. It’s a glorious spot though and I’ll certainly be back to peruse the purchasable ensemble of native trees on offer.
However, today’s mission is all about choosing a free tree. With the future of Wales at stake, it’s a big decision.
It feels as though the only way to cope with life right now is to find the tiny pockets of joy and clasp these rare and precious moments as firmly as we can. Often, it’s the smallest things which make the biggest difference. Tiny seeds exploding into extraordinary life. All big ideas begin with an inkling. And in this case, the Woodland Trust – quite literally – filled their pockets with seeds and are sharing the joy with the entire nation of Wales.
With its jaw-dropping coasts, omnipotent peaks and rolling, rural idylls, it’s only too easy to overlook Wales’s lack of forests – which at a piddly 15% of total land area, it makes us one of the least wooded nations in the UK. We simply don’t have enough trees.
A thousand years ago all of Wales was forested, the Wildwood of bygone days. One hundred percent tree cover is perhaps a little excessive, but certainly any improvement on that 15% is a win for our wildlife, our climate, and ourselves.
Working alongside the Welsh Government in their bid to tackle the climate emergency and create a National Forest, the Woodland Trust have launched the My Tree Our Forest initiative, which offers a free tree to every household in Wales.
With the compellingly ambitious target of creating a vast, interconnected woodland network stretching the length and breadth of the country, a National Forest is an undeniably impressive goal. But it’s easy to feel detached from something so immense. Such vast scale happiness is hard to absorb from our sofas.
Yes, we must get outside into the woods. Now the sun is out – we will; but if we could snatch a hint of that pleasure every day, with a cheery glance of nature from our windows, just imagine how elated we would be, as a nation.
My Tree Our Forest is just that. A million personal gestures. Individual seeds of happiness. Independently, they’ll brighten every garden in Wales and give local wildlife a fighting chance, while together, they’ll be part of something truly remarkable. By planting an appropriate tree in all our gardens, we can create a blossoming future right across Wales.
There’s a friendly team of staff and volunteers on hand at Coeden Fach to assist people with choosing a suitable species – at least there will be once the place opens. The first staff member arrives shortly after we do and invites us in while she opens up. I don’t need any encouragement and stride up the steep driveway towards the arboreal promised land, like a shot.
Ok, so at only a metre or two tall, the rows of bundled ‘twigs’ are perhaps a little underwhelming. But, for me, the scene which greets us symbolises something deeper, something overwhelmingly significant. Something that makes me stand back and silently observe my children as they wander the rows and read the hand-scrawled labels, wild cherry, crab apple, holly, beech, oak, hawthorn, downy birch, alder. All British species, invaluable to our native wildlife and evolutionarily adapted to our climate. This is a glimpse into a future that has always seemed impossible to imagine. People finally care about trees.
The subdued collection is a far cry from the flamboyant ill-equipped-for-the-Welsh-climate-and-with-little-if-any-value-to-wildlife exotics adorning garden centre displays and formal gardens, or the non-native showstoppers so coveted by the Victorians which now ravage and choke our countryside.
Here lay the humble custodians of our natural world. The unassuming engines of our terrestrial ecosystems. Laid out before me, in the crisp chill of spring, spread along rows of recently turned earth, are the under-appreciated powerhouses of nature, the forests of the future.
After much deliberation, we choose a crab apple. It’ll bloom spectacularly, help pollinate our existing fruit trees and in my imagined future I’ll have plenty of time to make jelly with its fruit! I’m so thrilled by our free tree, I tell about a dozen people we pass later in the park about the scheme.
Running from regional hubs in Cardiff, Llanrwst, Machynlleth, Swansea, Upper Cwmbran and Wrexham, the scheme is busy distributing the first 5,000 of its saplings to eager residents this month. But don’t panic if you miss out, it’s set to continue again in November when twenty-five hubs will open their gates across Wales for householders to select their tree from the hearteningly diverse collection of native, broad-leaved species. No garden? No problem. They can plant a tree on your behalf.
In a world very much lost in the woods, where money and power have for too long been valued above all else, My Tree Our Forest is a tiny pocket of joy that’s providing the seeds for an extraordinary and sustainable future.
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