ROBERT HARDMAN: Triumph of the angels!

While the poor old fir tree may not be having much fun right now – uprooted, hauled indoors and topped with tinsel – this is still a great weekend for the tree world in general.

And that's not least thanks to Mail's great Be A Tree Angel campaign.

Only now can we finally see the full impact of what you, our readers, have achieved for the UK.

It was around this time last year that we asked you to join our new appeal to give a boost to the UK's permanent tree population.

They responded with such zeal that it inspired some of our best-known business leaders to contribute more than £ half a million to the cause.

Capital City Academy students (pictured) are planting an orchard as part of the Daily Mail Tree Planting Campaign

Working with the Tree Council, we've provided tens of thousands of willow, holly, birch and oak trees that can be planted anywhere – in public spaces or in your own gardens. For example, more than 20,000 spruce trees have been donated to the Forestry Commission Scotland.

"Edible playground" is in bloom

A primary school in London has expanded its edible playground by planting ten fruit trees as part of the Mail campaign.

Students like Surrayah and Max, both seven as pictured, brave the cold at Woodmansterne Primary School in southwest London this week, planting plum, cherry, apple and pear trees.

Michael Dinsmore, head of outdoor learning at the school, said the children also received lessons on the importance of planting trees and protecting the environment.

Students like Surrayah and Max, both seven as pictured, brave the cold at Woodmansterne Primary School in southwest London this week, planting plum, cherry, apple and pear trees

Students like Surrayah and Max, both seven as pictured, brave the cold at Woodmansterne Primary School in southwest London this week, planting plum, cherry, apple and pear trees

He said, "The weather was a little bad, but the children were so excited about planting the trees that it was difficult to calm them down for the class that followed."

The trees grow together with other fruit and vegetables in the school's “edible playground”, which the children maintain. It already contains vegetables like lettuce, kale, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes.

The school's caterers serve what is grown there for lunch, and the children also have lessons on the importance of healthy eating.

Mr. Dinsmore said: “Usually it can be quite difficult to get the children to eat their vegetables. But they seem to enjoy it more once you've grown them yourself and seen where they come from. "

Network Rail is committed to spending £ 1 million planting community trees, replacing any that need to be removed to keep the tracks clear and safe.

The focus, however, was our flagship program Orchards for Schools. And what a difference it will make now.

The idea wasn't just to give the playground a pleasant landscaping. It should convey a sense of curiosity, wonder, and love for the role trees play in our lives. It should show that trees aren't just good for climbing – and that they can produce some tasty results along the way, too.

But just as the results of this great campaign were about to take hold in the truest sense of the word, the coronavirus came.

The only really good season for planting trees is between now and March.

However, thanks to Covid-19, this was never an option last winter. When our trees were ready to be planted, the schools closed and the teaching staff understandably had different priorities.

However, many of these schools are now itching for planting. After all, we're in National Tree Week. Our partners in the Tree Council, the charity that works for everything related to the tree, have coordinated several new initiatives. So yesterday the government announced 850,000 new trees for floodplain areas.

And for the past few days schools across the UK have been pulling out and digging the tools. So I came to one of them, the Capital City Academy in Brent, one of the most densely populated areas in London. It also has some of the worst air pollution in the country according to national rankings.

“It was thanks to the Daily Mail that we got involved. Our sponsor, Sir Frank Lowe, saw your Tree Angel campaign in the newspaper and suggested we get involved, ”said director Marianne Jeanes. And they did it with enthusiasm.

A piece of previously out-of-bounds wasteland at the back of the main school building has been cleared, dug up, turned over and is now ready to accommodate much more than a few seedlings.

"We have the fruit trees here. We are creating a pond here with frogs and wild animals – we will use it for science lessons – and we will have herbs, flowers and strawberries there," said sports teacher Stephan Hastings and proudly gave me a tour of the yesterday's main tree planting ceremony.

"It's about learning how to make something out of nothing."

At the center of it all is a new tulip tree in memory of a popular former employee, Mr Hassan, who died after contracting Covid-19 early in the pandemic.

When the new orchard is in full bloom it will be a very nice addition to London's first new look academy, opened in 2003 by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

As with all projects of this type, the orchard idea simply needed someone to take the lead and some determined enthusiast.

"We wanted to make an allocation, but then the Mail tree campaign came and it grew from there," says Hastings.

Although the coronavirus initially forced plans to put on hold, he never gave up.

With the help of the tree council, the original plan for an orchard with apple, pear, cherry and plum trees was gradually expanded.

Now there will also be a new hedge.

The students were given 120 blackthorn, quickthorn and dogwood plants as well as several raspberry bushes.

Since the school did not have its own garden set, the tree council decided to use some new spades, forks and gloves.

The first task was to clear the site of any debris that was thrown over the fence from an adjacent park. Someone had even hurled a shopping cart.

Mr. Hastings set a rotor vator to turn the ground around and gradually interest grew. Some students stayed for hours after school to interfere.

Your excitement would prove contagious when I found more than a dozen ninth grade and sixth grade volunteers happily digging around in a freezing rain shower.

Most explain that they have little or no outdoor space at home but have high hopes for the school's new orchard. Plans are underway for a mural on the adjacent wall.

Yahya Ahmed, 17, said, "We only have a tiny community garden at home, and it's overgrown – but I want to learn how to grow things."

A high school graduate with plans to read math at university, he said he was also inspired by the memory of Mr. Hassan.

"I wasn't in one of his classes, but he was just one of those teachers with time for everyone. He was a kind man and this is a great way for all of us to remember him."

The group is called the Orchard Remembrance Conservation Society (ORCS) – a reference to Tolkein's fictional orcs, a menacing tribe of underground warriors whose only redeeming trait is their love of nature.

Many more Capital City Academy “orcs” would be here today if it weren't for a couple of cases of Covid-19 in two other classes closely involved in the project. To her great annoyance, everyone had to self-isolate.

Mr. Hastings showed me the colorful magazine they all produced for the opening ceremony and thanked all supporters including the mail and the chairman of the governors, former English footballer Garth Crooks.

Some of the articles are from refugees from the war in Syria, whose fondest memories of their homeland include the gardens they left behind.

"In Syria, my grandparents' garden was full of trees like figs, pomegranate and amazing hibiscus flowers," wrote Buchra Alhawamdeh, adding that the new school garden will be a place to meet, love, grow food and share with friends can. .

Just like the Capital City Academy, more than 750 schools across the UK are finding that a new orchard can bring all sorts of unexpected benefits.

From the Five Islands Academy on the Scilly Isles to the Dyce Academy in Aberdeenshire; From Benhall St. Mary & # 39; s Primary in Saxmundham to Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi in St. David & # 39; s and Ebrington Primary in Londonderry, new trees are now taking root – and with them new adventures.

Another 750 schools are looking forward to embedding their trees next winter. Sara Lom, General Manager of the Tree Council, said that due to the pandemic, some schools and some tree nurseries will not be ready by then.

And there is still availability for new schools or community groups (including Boy Scouts, guides, and others) who may want to enroll.

"Trees are one of the best warriors in the fight against climate change, and planting more of them is important to slow this crisis down," said businessman Lord Sugar, a key supporter of our Be A Tree Angel campaign.

Lord Sugar, best known for his role on BBC1's The Apprentice, donated £ 100,000 to school orchards in hopes of inspiring thousands of "green apprentices".

He was joined by entrepreneur Richard Caring, Apple design guru Sir Jonathan Ive, banker Vernon Hill, and an anonymous donor, all of whom gave the same amount to create a legacy that millions of school children will love for years to come Will have joy.

Thanks to another donation from Mr. Hill, schools can now apply for hedge plants and other trees (not just the fruit variety) for their orchards.

In total, well over 60,000 trees will be donated over the course of the program.

At the same time as we reported yesterday, Network Rail has just launched its tree-planting campaign this week, dropping the first of more than 20,000 trees that will be in place by the end of the year, rising to 80,000 in March. Many times these numbers will come up in the years to come.

All of this could hardly be more topical. Because if we can take advantage of the chaos that the wretched coronavirus has wreaked in our lives and in the economy, it will be a renewed and deeper love of the natural world – and especially the trees – around us.

A new survey by the Forestry Department of more than 2,100 people found that a third have an increased appreciation for forest trees, while more than half said they value trees in their local streets and parks.

What follows is a recent survey by Natural England that found 47 percent of people spent more time outdoors than they did before the pandemic started.

And now children across the UK are discovering something new and inspiring in school grounds they have been banned from for much of this year.

You didn't know it when you signed up for Be A Tree Angel all those months ago.

But your contribution was even bigger – and more important – than any of us could have imagined.

Further information can be found at: www.treecouncil.org.uk/schools- and-education / orchards-for-school /

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