The story of Trees for Burnley

We had a chat with Trees for Burnley – recently named ‘Green Champions’ at the Burnley Council’s Above and Beyond awards! The group’s Chair and Treasurer, Pete Thorne, told us their story…

Trees for Burnley began in the mid to late 1990s, with something as simple as a public meeting at Burnley library. Here, local people got together to apply for a Millennium lottery grant to set up something called the ‘Forest of Burnley’. The vision for the ‘Forest of Burnley’ was to plant a million trees around Burnley for the Millennium – and that they did, and more!

Burnley has always been a green town – in fact, it has historically had more Parks than other towns its size, thanks to the various mill owners who would donate land for local people’s recreation. However the Parks weren’t particularly wooded, and a lot of the woodland that was there had been chopped up for firewood over centuries. Fast forward several centuries and Burnley found itself a place with lots of natural areas, but with the lowest tree cover of any district in Britain. This had to be rectified – in comes the Forest of Burnley project, which had a couple of full-time staff and worked out of Burnley Council’s Parks office.

As part of the Forest for Burnley project, trees were planted all over the borough, including at Hurst Wood, Townley Park, Thieveley Moor and Clowbridge Reservoir. There was also an Urban Arboretum set up for the millennium, where all sorts of exotic trees, such as Giant Redwoods, were planted in the town (have a look out for them next time you’re in town!). More than 30 years on, it’s fantastic to see how the landscape has changed. What was just open moorland at Thieveley Moor is now a thriving woodland, and what was open fields and a disused farm at Rowley Lake is now a beautiful wood with a good mix of trees. Rowley Lake is well used by the public due to being on the edge of the town centre, showing how making improvements to green spaces benefits both the place and the people who live there.

Nowadays, a lot of Trees for Burnley’s work involves maintenance work, pulling out rhododendrons, chopping down any dangerous or dying trees, dealing with the occasional acts of vandalism – whether that’s by deer (particularly on the moors in Thieveley where there are lots of deer about!), rabbits, or by young people – although this is the exception. One of the things the Forest of Burnley did was to involve schools in the tree planting as much as possible – to give young people a sense of ownership, so that they go onto look after the trees that they’ve planted. The more people understand about the environment the more they will treat it with respect, whether that be by following the countryside code, keeping dogs on leads during springtime to protect the lambs, and avoiding chopping down trees early in the year due to birds nesting. Education and awareness is vital.

Trees for Burnley itself has always been a voluntary group, and run monthly volunteering sessions on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as regular ‘Big Plant’ events, where up to 100 local volunteers get involved! At last year’s Big Plant at Rowley Lake, over a thousand trees were planted in two hours thanks to the sheer manpower of volunteers who came along! Sometimes people who come along to the ‘Big Plants’ get a taste for it – like the young family who came along to the Rowley Lake session, then came back the next week because they’d enjoyed it so much!

Treeplanting has so many benefits…it benefits the environment, it helps the countryside to look better, it helps to take Co2 out of the atmosphere, it helps the wildlife (and thanks to Trees for Burnley, there is a lot of wildlife in the woods these days!). But it’s also good for the soul, for the mind, it’s good exercise and it’s a great opportunity to be social and meet new people. How about it? If you’d like to volunteer, or just find out a bit more about Trees for Burnley’s work, check out their website here: