Pens of the Earth: Trees and the City

Image by Jon Stokes.

November sees the start of tree planting season, and the culmination of the Woodland Trust’s ‘Big Climate Fightback’ campaign which encourages everyone to pledge to plant a tree. But what might this mean in Portsmouth? Helen Salsbury met with Pauline Powell, coordinator of the Portsmouth and Southsea Tree Wardens, and discovered that there’s much happening locally and many ways to get involved.

I met with Pauline in a cafe at the Mountbatten Centre, Hilsea. I brought her pears from the tree in our garden which I’d planted as a small twiggy thing some years ago; she showed me the first walnut harvested from a tree which Portsmouth and Southsea Tree Wardens planted five years ago in collaboration with Portsmouth City Council and the Lord Mayor who ‘wielded the silver spade.’

Walnut tree in Mountbatten Centre Grounds – photo by Pauline Powell

Pauline founded Portsmouth and Southsea Tree Wardens in 2010 after hearing a talk by Havant Tree Wardens. ‘I thought, Portsmouth and Southsea haven’t got any Tree Wardens. So that’s why I started the group.’

Rather like roots, there is a network of tree wardens throughout the UK. The Tree Council, who launched this scheme in 1990, co-ordinate this ‘national force of local tree champions’, working with ‘local authorities, voluntary organisations, parish councils and local partnerships.’

Portsmouth and Southsea Tree Warden’s first project was inspired by the Tree Council’s long running campaign to encourage the planting of traditional hedgerows. ‘Hedgerows are an undervalued resource that are in danger of being lost from our towns and cities. They are important for biodiversity and provide a range of benefits to people.’

‘In the past, hedges were used as larders of healthy seasonal food – apples, berries and nuts were collected as a healthy tasty supplement to the diet. They also provided fire wood and were a source of animal feed. Today, we need them as wildlife corridors and because of the large numbers of animals from song birds to pollinating insects that they support.’

‘We thought we’d plant a fruiting hedge,’ Pauline told me, ‘for the passers by to help themselves … a community thing.’

The first step was to get permission to plant on public land. ‘The Council Arboriculturist – or tree officer in normal speak – was at the time Stuart Campbell, and he’s the one we [had] to go through to get permission. The council gave us a site near Hilsea station, on the edge of Rugby Camp. So we planted it up in November 2010, and the Council Tree Officer came along as well, and various other organisations.’
The tree wardens continue to maintain this fruiting hedge.

The relationships with Portsmouth City Council and other organisations continued to develop, leading to collaborations over the planting of new trees (in parks and other areas of public land) and the protection of existing trees.

Sometimes trees are planted singly, sometimes in larger numbers.

Often these plantings have a commemorative theme, such as the ‘Vote 100 Plant 100’ project, 100 fruit trees planted in March 2019, the brainchild of Stephen Morgan MP for Portsmouth South, to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote, or the English walnut planted in December 2014 in Alexandra Park to commemorate the contribution the “Pompey Pals” Regiments made fighting in WW1.

Fruit tree planting along Lake Road to celebrate Women’s suffrage – photo by Jon Stokes

Council involvement includes choosing of sites, which can involve the City Landscape Architect and Housing Administrators, and, when planting larger trees, council contractors do the heavy work, such as digging the holes.

Some of the forthcoming plantings, this November, involve large numbers of very young trees, known as ‘whips.’ And for this, volunteers will do slot planting. Pauline explained, ‘You take your spade, make a slot, insert the whip, and then fill the slot.’

There’s also a program to plant in schools. ‘We’ve asked all the schools in the city if they’re interested and about a dozen have replied. For school work an enthusiastic member of staff is essential. Two schools which have taken part are Wicor Primary in Porchester and Fernhurst Junior in Portsmouth, both good examples.’

The protection of trees is a vital part of the tree warden’s role. ‘We keep our eyes and ears open and look out for vandalised trees or trees that are struggling, and then tell the council or Colas, who are responsible for the street trees in Portsmouth.’

Volunteers and members of the public are also encouraged to nurture young trees. ‘I’m encouraging people to water their street trees – with care, because newly planted trees are very vulnerable for the first couple of years, and if you get a dry spot they’re likely to die.’

To spread awareness, the tree wardens give talks and hand out information at events such as ‘Wild about Portsmouth’, the recent Stacey Centre Apple Pressing day, and also to organisations. Encouraging others, including youth groups and children, to ‘value the community’s trees … helps to reduce vandalism.’ The tree warden’s twitter feed is a great way to find out what’s going on locally. The recent seed gathering season, which runs from 23rd Sept to 23rd Oct, saw them encouraging local people to join Havant Tree Wardens on their Woodland Walk in HollyBank Wood, an opportunity ‘to gather tree seeds to grow your own locally sourced trees.’

A significant project, which the Tree Wardens help to publicise and support, is the Cornwallis Crescent Community Orchard. The inspiration to start this came from local resident, Dennis David. The orchard, which provides free fruit as a foraging resource for local people, is the result of several years of hard work. Trish Bell, Portsmouth City Council Resident Engagement Officer, helped Dennis to get the necessary permissions and to gather support and funding for this project. The orchard has been in place for three years now and is beginning to bear fruit.

When Jon Stokes, Director of the Tree Council, visited the orchard he was so impressed with what had been done that he made Dennis a Tree Warden and encouraged him to join the Portsmouth and Southsea part of the National Tree Council. Jon’s visit also helped to inspire Trish and Dennis to form the Charles Dickens Community Orchards linking Charles Dickens birthplace with apples.

‘Since then, we have put in many orchards closely following the Charles Dickens birthplace trail,’ Trish told me. ‘An orchard is five or more trees and there is a masterplan in place now to put fruit trees throughout the city. Our project has developed into a nationally significant project which will be used as an exemplar throughout the country. Many organisations are involved with our work now. We have a growing list of volunteers and all political parties in the council support the initiative.’

The tree wardens are also involved with the Pocket Parks project, run by Emma Loveridge, helping both to publicise and to plant: ‘The Pocket Park garden in Sea Mills Gardens, Portsea, was built successfully on Saturday 28 September led by Emma Loveridge, lead gardener at Treadgolds Community Centre, supported by keen volunteers including tree wardens. Two more Pocket Park gardens nearby [are] to be planted soon.’

Funded via a government grant which was applied for by Food Portsmouth, a charity that is helping to eliminate food poverty and inequalities, the Pocket Parks are opportunities to bring the Portsmouth community together and combat loneliness and mental health issues.

‘When you live in a really built up area like this it’s really easy to forget that we’re animals and we eat food that’s grown rather than food that you just buy in the supermarket. … It’s about getting that connection alive in your brain again and getting back to nature.’

These days, there are about forty tree wardens in Portsmouth, but more are needed. ‘We always need more volunteers. Active ones. It would make life easier. If you plant seventy-five trees and only five people come, it’s going to be difficult.’

So why not get involved with planting this season?


Get involved

Here are some of the events happening:
• 16th November: Planting 75 native trees (whips) provided by the Tree Council, in Port Solent. (Commemorates 75 years since D-Day).
• 23rd November: Fruit tree planting in Portsea.
• 23rd November: 550 trees (whips) donated by the Sikh community, provisional planting site at the junction of Western Road and Coldharbour Road. (Awaiting confirmation).
• 1st December: Fruit tree planting in Portsea.

For fruit tree planting, find out more here.
For other planting, find out more here.


Submit your story to Pens of the Earth

Pens of the Earth have a new submission window open for stories, narrative non-fiction and poetry on the theme ‘Planting Portsmouth’. We are encouraging people to go along and help plant, or to pledge to plant in their own garden or forecourt as part of the Big Climate Fightback campaign, then to use these real life experiences to inspire their work.

Pens of the Earth will be providing more information on the ‘Planting Portsmouth’ theme in the coming weeks, including an in depth look at the Cornwallis Crescent Community Orchard and Charles Dickens Orchard Trail. So keep an eye on our inspiration page, sign up to our mailing list, like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to stay informed.


Find out more:

The Big Climate Fightback

Tree Wardens

Cornwallis Crescent Community Orchard

Pocket Parks



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