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Earth Restoration: trees in schools

Andreas Kornevall

Andreas Kornevall tells the Ecologist about the success of his School Tree Nursery Programme....

trees have to be planted in our minds as well as in the soils

When I started the Earth Restoration Service Charity, with an aim to enhance and restore ecological integrity, I had successfully managed to source and gather thousands of native trees and wildflowers to be used for restoration before there was a degraded area of land confirmed to restore.

I thought it would be straightforward to get access to land where I lived, as degraded and derelict areas could be seen everywhere. But after many magnificently failed calls with local councils, I realised this was more difficult than I had anticipated. 

I gave up calling councils and MP's and decided to look into how to engage the local community outside my doorstep. I wanted to see where the heart of the community would be, a water-hole where people met who do not necessarily share the same views, but yet interacted. Those are engaging places.

I discovered that schools come closest to what I was seeking, they occupy a central role that few other organisations or groups can reach. Could schools start teaching about ecological restoration and at the same time begin to transform derelict land to woodlands?

The idea was idealistic at first, but by planting a tree nursery inside the school gates, the school could easily combine an educational and practical planting programme. The children could care for the trees, and once the trees matured after a few years, they could plant them out in their community with the help of the parents and teachers. Parents liked the idea, and most people I spoke to supported it. This idea of planting tree nurseries inside schools grew to become the School Tree Nursery Programme which I have been operating since then.

The motto is that trees have to be planted in our minds as well as in the soils - bringing together education with practical environmental restoration is the central axiom of the work. Since it started with one school signing up in 2007, the demand has grown, and the programme has branched out to over four hundred schools nationwide and in other countries too such as India, Ecuador and Tanzania.

I am also pleased to report that many of these schools are from deprived areas in the UK and some schools with limited outdoor spaces have used creative ways of planting tree nurseries up against the walls in raised beds and in finding small spaces to fit the saplings in, to the joy of their children.

The trees have also been used for the restoration of flood lands, eroded countryside and even neglected inner city areas. I have seen how this has united and encouraged schools to participate in resolving where to best plant the saplings for the maximum benefit to the local environment. By involving schools, I have not had one single problem with the out-planting, or finding land. Instead, many MP's have joined in the work themselves.

One bright example comes from the Andover area, where a community of twenty five local schools brought their tree nurseries together to plant out seven acres of new woodland - all for the recreational benefit of the children living there and for the wildlife. Every young person in the Andover community will help to plant ten thousand trees over the next decade.

Other notable projects have been memorial woodlands created by students with learning difficulties, and numerous wildlife corridors in partnership with the Wildlife Trusts across the country. Children, parents and teachers have planted out over 100,000 trees in the past five seasons, which corresponds to roughly one thousand new woodlands.

Ecological restoration by definition is positive and life affirming; with our hands we garden in the very mosaic of nature and enter into a caring relationship. With localised planting programmes, alongside educational talks and workshops, children learn about their ecology whilst leaving their own legacy in the landscape. The educational value of tree planting should not be underestimated. If a child can learn how to plant trees, understand how they live, and why they matter, I am certain we will have a new generation of millions of Wangari Maathai's.

With the UK's history of deforestation (as destructive as any in the Amazon or Indonesia), only twelve percent of land remains wooded, a pitiful number compared to the rest of Europe. We can turn this current trend around and raise the percentage in the next twenty years. There are agricultural policies that are standing in the way, as well as the lack of initiatives and demands from the communities. But tree planting remains a cost effective way of enhancing the landscape. Despite the challenges, I have seen signs of recovery and better viewpoints regarding restoration from the general population.

We should remind ourselves that trees and truth have the same etymological base, they are united at the root. It is not surprising, as trees are the real governors of the land, they regulate our air, filter the soils, provide habitats, food for wildlife; they supply us with homes, heat and timber.

In Scandinavia, care trees were planted in the farms/homesteads symbolising The World Tree (Yggdrasil), and porridge would be laid out as a gift during the festival seasons, to remind us to say thanks for all the things trees give us. By taking care of the local tree (microcosm) we also took care of the World Tree (macrocosm). The care tree was a figurative expression of interdependence, representing nature as a whole.

With all the machinery, and all the engineering humankind possesses, in a single seed there is the power to restore the whole Earth, all we have to do is to allow the seed to flower and grow. Hope is waiting to sprout under our feet.

For those schools interested in having a tree nursery this coming season, please e-mail:

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