A year on from the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Trust and partners are looking to spring blossom to help signal reflection and hope with their plans to plant blossoming tree circles in cities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the next five years.
Part of the charity’s blossom campaign which kicks off in earnest next month, the ambition is to create beautiful green spaces in and near urban areas to connect more people to nature and to create spaces for hope and reflection as the UK looks forward.
Last summer, a report by Vivid Economics highlighted inequalities in access to green space across Britain with 295 deprived urban neighbourhoods described as ‘grey deserts’, with no trees or accessible green space.
And last spring, many recognised the importance of access to nature during lockdown when so many found time in nature beneficial not just for their physical health but mental wellbeing too.
Previous research by the Trust has found that everyday connection to nature is beneficial to human health and wellbeing and also benefits the natural environment as those who are more connected to nature are more likely to take action to protect and care for it.
Thousands shared striking images of spring blossom to help lift people’s spirits with the charity’s first ever #BlossomWatch campaign as England went into its first lockdown last March
The Trust now hopes to embed an annual marking of Spring blossom season, emulating Japan’s hanami, which brings all generations outdoors, boosting tourism and helping people connect with nature.
Local residents will be able to use the new blossom spaces as quiet places for reflection, peace and enjoyment. The conservation charity will work with partners and local communities on the design, tree planting and plans for how the spaces will be used now and in the future.
The spaces can be used in various ways including for events and social gatherings, workshops, festivals and exhibitions as lockdown restrictions are eased and for years to come.
The annually blossoming tree circles, with support in part from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, will be planted both on and off the Trust’s land, with the charity working with partners to ensure sites are accessible and meet the needs of local communities.
Partners include Historic England who have also pledged to support the project as part of its High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme.
The Trust also aims to offer Members of Parliament a blossoming tree for planting in their constituency.
Hilary McGrady, Director General at the National Trust says: “Our vision is for nature, beauty and history for everyone. Our simple ambition with this project is to bring all of these elements together in the creation of green, nature-rich havens in the very heart of urban areas which are also beautiful and inspiring spaces that people can use.
“Our founder Octavia Hill recognised how everyone needs beautiful, open spaces, wherever they live.
“As we create more and more spaces we also want to embed annual blossom moments or celebrations in the nations’ cultural calendar.”
“This project is just one element of our ambitions to plant more trees and to address Britain’s need for green space and nature where people live; but it has an important part to play. If, by creating these blossom spaces, we can create areas for people of all ages to take notice and connect with the natural world – while also creating havens for urban nature – that has to be a good thing.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “I know from my time in Japan during the sakura season how beautiful cherry blossom can be. So I very much support this National Trust initiative to open up new green spaces across the country and bring more of this wonderful spectacle to the UK.
The site for the first blossom circle will be Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham, the same borough as the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital in London. The London Blossom Garden is being created in partnership with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with support from Bloomberg, working with Rosetta Arts and landscape architects The Edible Bus Stop and Davies White Landscape Architects.
Local residents were invited to help shape the tone, feel and use of their circle. The space will be a commemorative space to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on the capital, and a place to remember all those who have lost their lives, honour key workers and reflect on the city’s shared experience of the pandemic.
The final agreed design includes 33 UK grown trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple to represent the 33 London boroughs. These will be arranged in three circles and become part of a new public garden. Planting is currently underway with the new garden due to be completed this spring.
Another three blossom inspired spaces are also in the pipeline for Newcastle, Nottingham and Plymouth. Although plans are in their infancy, working in partnership with Urban Green Newcastle and Newcastle City Council and the respective City Councils in Nottingham and Plymouth, the Trust’s ambition is to create areas which will reflect the unique character of these cities and their communities.
Blossom Programme Manager, Annie Reilly added: “We will be working hard to ensure each space is designed to deliver something special in line with the individual needs of the local community. They might be large or small, intimate spaces; they will only become more beautiful over time as the trees root themselves in their surroundings, and we hope, into people’s daily lives.
“We hope to inspire and work closely with neighbours to leave a lasting legacy – to develop a activities and events with strong seasonal links which will chime with their needs and have the broadest possible appeal. Ideas could include marking the start of spring by taking inspiration from the start of the blossom season – but also picnics, plays, readings and music events in the summer and autumn candlelit gatherings.”
The spaces will be supported in part by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the charity will also be actively fundraising to plant more tree circles. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blossom-watch.