“Ireally love to think that families, individuals or schools can identify for generations to come that a particular tree on a road or in their area was planted by a particular person or group,” says Chris Sandys, communities producer at BBC Radio Gloucestershire. He is enthusing (with 100% justification) about Ourboretum: a new campaign launched this July that aims to replace trees in Gloucestershire that are dying from the (as yet) incurable ash dieback disease.
Ourboretum is brilliantly simple and anyone in Gloucestershire can get involved: collect seeds / nuts from hazel, oak or beech trees this autumn, and plant them in pots in your garden or on your balcony; schools and businesses can join in too. After the saplings appear in spring and grow to 40cm, they will be transplanted to specially selected project locations. The initial target is to grow 2,020 trees.
Ash dieback (a fungal disease, highlighted in Cotswold Life November 2019) is expected to kill up to 95% of ash trees across the UK including in Gloucestershire, dramatically impacting landscapes and wildlife habitat. Ourboretum, run by BBC Radio Gloucestershire in partnership with the Cotswolds Conservation Board, aims to mitigate the losses. Most importantly, Chris says, “we need members of the public to get involved to bring Ourboretum to life – individuals, families, schools, clubs, businesses, partner organisations, as well as landowners who can help us in identifying suitable locations for planting trees.”
Mark Connelly, Land Management Officer at the Cotswolds Conservation Board says: “Our mantra is to plant the
right tree in the right place for the right reason. Through Ourboretum we hope to increase people’s understanding of ash dieback and also of trees, which are so important for our landscapes, biodiversity, [mitigating] climate change, helping with water and air quality. It’s not just about woodlands, or planting in hedges, parklands and copses; urban trees are important as well, to provide shade and to cool streets.”
Oak, beech and hazel trees have been chosen for Ourboretum because “they are easy to find and quite easy to grow, and they are suitable for Gloucestershire,” Mark says. Both he and Chris have already had a go at collecting and growing “from seed to sapling” to make sure it really is possible for anyone to do. Mark concentrated on acorns (oak) and hazelnuts, and successfully grew three or four of each species. Chris meanwhile tried his hand with a bagful of beechmast, collected last autumn from Buckholt Wood:
“The main tip Mark gave me was to put it all into a bucket of water and discard anything that floated – which was dead or useless – and that left me with about half of the beechnuts I had collected. By the end of October I had planted 30 in peat-free compost in six different pots, outside in my garden, and I literally left them. Green shoots began appearing around the end of February / beginning of March. It was brilliant! I had just over 50% success rate, with 17 lovely saplings that grew without any attention at all – which has given me lots of confidence that it really is easy to do.”
You can download Ourboretum guides [see panel] to help you identify healthy seeds / nuts from hazel, beech and oak (and the difference between sessile and pedunculate oak!), plus where to look for seeds, and what you need to record about the location (for traceability and bio-security purposes). Hazelnuts can be collected from the end of August, and beechmast and acorns in September. Guides include handy tips on pots, soil and growing too.
The coronavirus outbreak and social distancing has disrupted physical get-togethers for initial community Ourboretum events, however the lockdown has made us generally much more appreciative of our natural environment on our doorstep, Chris says. “I think Ourboretum taps into that brilliantly well, and the whole campaign works even if there is still a degree of lockdown which means people can’t meet in large groups in public.”
BBC Radio Gloucestershire programmes will be running updates on the campaign. The aim is to plan an Ourboretum festival in early autumn, whether held physically or virtually online, and early autumn seed-collecting events – together or socially distanced. It is also hoped to create an interactive online map highlighting activities, and to organise planting events. In addition to planting trees singly or in small groups, the dream is to establish a small ‘legacy’ Ourboretum woodland of native trees where each sapling, planted by different families / groups, tells its own story from 2020.
“I’m really optimistic and excited by Ourboretum,” Chris says. “If we can do things really well here in Gloucestershire this year, maybe next year with the help of our 39 local BBC radio stations the campaign can roll out nationally.”
Want to get involved in Ourboretum? Find out more at: ourboretum, email
Collect, plant and grow: individuals, families, groups, schools and businesses can download guides and info.
Landowners / farmers: please help us to identify sites where trees can be planted, including a location for the Ourboretum legacy woodland.
Partner organisations and sponsorship: join us in promoting Ourboretum! We also welcome help with tree-planting costs, please get in touch.
One of the first shoots to appear, in March
A collection of beechnuts, before Chris selected 30 to plant
The saplings really take off