Hackney's edible forest replanted after last year's tree deaths

Hackney Marshes

A photo of Hackney Marshes where some of the trees were planted and died last year. - Credit: @wildhackney

An edible forest planted on Hackney Marshes has been fully restocked after many of the new saplings did not survive its first planting. 

The 6,500 tree forest was funded entirely by the Honest Organic drinks company and the project saw charity Trees for Cities work team up with Hackney council, local volunteers and groups including the Tree Musketeers to get the plants in the ground.  

But not long after the initial planting of the woodland last February, many of the saplings had died.

The exact number of deaths has been contested however, with Hackney council saying the woodland had a 75 per cent success rate and a survey conducted by local volunteers finding that, overall, 70pc of the planting was dead or missing. 

The volunteers' report from September 2020 concluded: "A total of 6959 trees are dead [or] missing.

"This is a very high loss rate and is due to multiple factors...planting late in the planting season, poor planting technique by volunteers or contractors, use of large whips on East Marsh, and, in many places inadequate or no mulch."

Picture of dead saplings.

A photo taken of dead and dying saplings on the Marshes last year. - Credit: @wildhackney

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The group of volunteers who conducted the survey divided the area of woodland into 3m bays sectioned off with stakes and strings, and counted trees within each area. Trees were also inspected and classified as either flourishing, having sign of life or dead or missing. 

They have chosen to remain anonymous "due to the high profile nature of [the] planting" and say in their report: "We have carried out this work with the aim of fact finding only, in good faith and to allow lessons to be learnt for future greening in Hackney."

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But the council states that "extreme weather conditions" and "challenges posed by the lockdown period", have meant more trees were lost than would usually be the case, and denies the deaths are as widespread as some have alleged. 

It reports that the Hackney Marshes site was fully restocked with saplings in November and December last year.

Mayor Philip Glanville said the edible forest forms part of a commitment to plant more than 36,000 trees in the borough by 2022

"It was great to be personally involved in the planting like so many other local volunteers," he said.

“All of the trees were planted in the planting season, mulched regularly after planting, and - even though it is not standard practice to artificially water new saplings - watered during May, which was the hottest and driest on record.

"Unfortunately, this period of extreme weather, one of the things that urban tree planting can help to mitigate, impacted on their ability to establish."

Trees for Cities echoed the mayor's statements but said large areas of the site were growing well. 

"Unfortunately, the unique, challenging conditions of Covid-19 have had an impact on delivery operations at this site - especially with mulching in March towards the end of the scheduled planting season," a spokesperson said.

"When combined with a long period of hot weather, this has resulted in a higher level of losses than we would normally expect. We want to offer reassurance that all losses [were] replaced in the next planting season and we will continue to monitor the site with our partners in line with our project agreement."

Last summer's heatwave in the south of England was "one of the most significant" in 60 years, according to the Met Office. 

The aims of the Hackney project are to capture planet-warming carbon dioxide, promote biodiversity and encourage the local community to learn more about foraging. 

However, the group of volunteers has advised against planting intervention and says natural regeneration is occurring on the site from existing seed and suckers that could extend existing woodland.

Volunteers suggest that stopping mowing in certain areas could mean saplings can grow "without the need for carbon intensive planting". 

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