Londoners had a lot of realisations in lockdown. Some of us realised that we should make the effort to travel to see family more. Others realised how quickly a bottle of wine goes down when drinking at home, or how important our local shops are. But something we all collectively came to accept is that being outside, in nature, is very necessary for our wellbeing.
Problem is, a lot of London’s parks are what James Godfrey-Faussett, a forest-maker at biodiversity and rewilding project SUGi, calls ‘green deserts’: huge open spaces of just grass. That is why SUGi, in collaboration with local authorities and community leaders, chose to plant 30,000 saplings in Dagenham’s Parsloes Park.
The borough of Barking and Dagenham has been designated as a national priority for urban regeneration, and part of that involves giving the local community more places where they can enjoy themselves. The new trees are also a symbol of gratitude for the resilience of local frontline and NHS workers for their hard work throughout the pandemic, so the area has been named the Forest of Thanks.
What started out as a small project of 200 square metres grew 50 times bigger when local authorities took an interest in the Miyawaki method, the way SUGi creates its forests. The Japanese technique involves layering dozens of local species of trees and shrubs to create urban forests that grow in about 20 years, instead of the 200 years it takes with traditional tree-planting. It also allows for different species of trees, birds and bugs to coexist happily in city environments.
‘People were curious about it at first because it just looked like a mass of tiny trees. But once we explained that it’s a miniature forest that will create incredible biodiversity, catch CO2 and clean the air, they became really positive about it,’ says Godfrey-Faussett. Several locals volunteered after walking past the forest and discovering the project. The forest was planted last November. Then, the saplings were around a foot high. Now the tallest stand at five feet. In two years, the forest will be entirely self-sustaining.
The only trouble? ‘The crows,’ says Godfrey-Faussett. ‘They pulled out a few of the saplings. But these little islands of trees all over the place, they make a massive difference.’
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