‘Every tree counts’: Amsterdam forest leads the way with saplings donation plan | Trees and forests
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Ina clearing in Amsterdamse Bos, a forest on the outskirts of the Dutch capital, is a ‘tree center’ where hundreds of young trees, including hazelnut, cherry, country maple, beech, chestnut and ash, are organized by type of tree.
The idea behind it is simple: every day unwanted saplings were cleared and discarded when those saplings could be carefully collected and transplanted to where they were needed.
Volunteers have already collected thousands of young trees cut from forest trails and those that are unlikely to survive in the shade of the forest. On Saturday, on a seedling donation day, people will be encouraged to take unwanted saplings or cuttings from their own gardens and donate them to 200 tree centers across the Netherlands.
This winter, Meer Bomen Nu (No more trees now) aims to donate 1 million saplings to farmers, municipalities and landowners. The small Dutch foundation hopes that this circular practice will become widespread in northern Europe.
“The Netherlands want to plant 37,000 hectares [91,400 acres], which is around 100m of trees, ”explains Hanneke van Ormondt, campaign manager for Meer Bomen Nu and member of the climate activism organization Urgenda. “I don’t know how little time we have left to set up nurseries, but we don’t need them: we just need more circular forest management. Everywhere along the path, left and right, is always clear of shrubs and trees. Replant it! My dream is that every council opens a tree center where foresters can bring their stuff, and people who want a free tree can come. “
A pledge to plant many more trees by 2030 is a key part of the Dutch climate change agreements, which Dutch courts have ordered the government to honor. Across Europe, the EU has pledged to plant 3 billion trees by 2030, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 44%, and there are strategies to protect, strengthen and expand damaged forests, despite the challenges of land availability.
But while state forests typically use certified plants, there are also plenty of small landowners, farmers, and a few councils, looking to plant trees but on a tight budget: this is where Meer Bomen Nu think voluntary organizations can arise.
“We need more trees for climate change and biodiversity laws,” says Van Ormondt. “Every tree [takes up] CO2 cools us, makes the soil healthier, gives oxygen, shelters wildlife, birds and insects, cools cities… and makes us happier.
The Dutch foundation started partly by coincidence, after Urgenda won lawsuits against the Dutch government to make it honor its climate commitments.
“One of the ministries told me that Urgenda had plans to plant trees but the nurseries cannot deliver them,” recalls Van Ormondt. “I like challenges, so in March of last year I went to visit Franke van der Laan from Stichting MeerGroen. In summer, he grows vegetables; in winter, he transforms the 160 hectares where he takes care of forest management into an arboricultural center. He started with 10 trees, which he donated at the end of the season, then 100, then 500. “
By the time Van Ormondt visited the tree center, Van der Laan had 50,000 saplings and thanks to the progressive agricultural foundation Caring Farmers, they found 20 volunteers and planted all the saplings in three weeks.
Meer Bomen Nu was established in the summer of 2020, and an unlikely August fruit nursery donation of 150,000 pear trees gained national attention. “We caused traffic all over the Netherlands, with people driving from Limburg to Breukelen! ” she says. “After that we got a phone call with someone saying they had 80,000 Guelder roses in pots. By that time everyone knew us and a million trees had been pre-ordered from the site. Last winter we started, it was a big logistical nightmare, and we had very strict containment. But we gave 250,000 plants and shoots.
“We did a survey and 80% survived, which is as good as a regular forest plantation. That’s when we decided that it had potential and that we would try to make a million this winter, and get other countries interested.
Manou van der Noort, volunteer coordinator at Amsterdamse Bos, says she has always found it a pity that the trails are cleared of unwanted shrubs and young trees, to be composted. “I think [Meer Bomen Nu] raises awareness of what we need to do with trees and how each tree matters, ”she says. “There is also a lower threshold for farmers or councils to plant a new forest or a new hedge: it’s free, which is a pretty low threshold, and it’s easy to organize. “
There is also enthusiasm within the EU. On December 11, the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, will replant the first Belgian sapling with Meer Bomen Nu for a couple near Brussels with land and desire for 300 trees and shrubs.
Forestry lobby group Fern, however, says small actions do not alleviate the need for large-scale government action, especially to find land for forests. “Planting community trees, especially in urban areas, can provide enormous environmental and social benefits,” says Kelsey Perlman, forest and climate activist. “But these initiatives must not distract us from the biggest problem, which is the precarious state of Europe’s forests, and the industrial logging that drives it. Dominant forestry practices have created a biodiversity crisis in many EU protected forests, as repeated studies show.
Yet Van Ormondt believes that trees on urban and private land can only help. “We only do this with the permission of the site manager because they know what species they want to keep in an area and what is abundant,” she says. “If you do it right, there is no downside. But don’t just pull trees up here and there when you walk the dog! “
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