The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

Update on Heartwood forest!


By Arlene


From todays Sunday Times~
IT was like a scene from Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Men, women and children spilt across a wind-scoured field, bending their backs and stabbing at the rain-soaked clay soil with muddied picks and spades.

Yet it was not the past that was firing the imaginations of this ad hoc land army of Sunday Times readers. It was the future.

From mid-morning until the light began to fade, more than 300 adults and their families came together to plant 5,000 native trees on open ground next to a fragment of ancient wood in Hertfordshire.

With a little luck the fruit of their labours will still be enjoyed in 500 years’ time by people whose 21st-century forebears will seem as remote as the Tudors do to us today.

The vision is heroic. By the time it is fully planted, Heartwood Forest will contain about 600,000 trees spread across 850 acres above the village of Sandridge, near St Albans.

Right at the heart of it is the Sunday Times Wood, funded and planted by the newspaper and its readers. Their efforts last Sunday brought to 45,000 the number of trees put in place since the first saplings were delivered in November. By the end of 2010 it will have grown to 90,000.

Heartwood is a grand project of the Woodland Trust, designed to help reverse the massive loss of trees in the UK since the industrial revolution. Every generation since the mid-19th century has erased woodland from the landscape. Now only Malta stands between Britain and the unwanted title of least wooded country in Europe.

Only 12% of Britain is given over to trees, against a European average of 44%. If you measure England alone it is a meagre 7% and half of that is conifer plantations and not native species.

Loss of trees means the loss of everything that goes with them — woodland flowers, butterflies, birds and mammals — robbing a once rich landscape of its ecological integrity.

With climate change threatening to make matters worse and the arable landscape likely to be farmed ever more intensively, the need for wild places could not be more acute.

Standing on a muddy bridleway on a freezing February morning, it is difficult to imagine the scene as future generations will see it. The bridleway will be a grassy ride between an avenue of limes. On either side, where empty fields now lie barren, there will be thick, self-regenerating forest pulsing with so much life that you could spend a week in the woodland depths and not see everything. This is the vision that brings out the volunteers.

“The attraction is to do something for future generations,” said Sue Stocks, a retired nurse who led a walking party from Harpenden Women’s Institute.

The boys came, too. Early arrivals included a party of children, aged 10-13, from the 3rd Upminster Scouts who spread themselves out in a chain gang. It was hard work. The soil here is glacial moraine — heavy clay and pebbles, geological detritus dumped by ancient ice.

The scouts persisted. “Hopefully,” said their leader, Kevin Twohig, “in years to come they will be able to tell their children that they helped to plant this forest. How many people can say that? It helps them to take ownership and that’s the whole point of the thing.”

Many families involved their children. Simon Thomas, a City solicitor, and his wife Naomi, a business coach, were fascinated when they first spotted the fledgling forest from their commuter train, and now they had brought their four-year-old daughter, Isabel, to plant her oak.

“We’ve come down here pretty much every month since it opened,” said Thomas. They are now the Woodland Trust’s de facto official photographers, recording the site month by month as the forest grows.

Oaks, inevitably, are the favourites, but they are one species in a broad mix that includes birch, ash, hornbeam, holly, alder, dog rose, willow, hawthorn and hazel. All are “native”, having been resident in Britain for at least 600 years.

Insects, birds and animals are naturally opportunistic and will move in quickly. Although it will be long beyond even the youngest planters’ lifetimes before the forest reaches its peak, it will take only 10 or 12 years for it to become a thriving natural woodland.

By then the leaf canopy will have closed and the place will have its own sounds and silences. The day will belong to birds and butterflies; bats will flicker and deer will cross the ride at dusk; the night will be a hunters’ carnival of ruthless tooth and claw. For human visitors there will be the recurring sensations of childhood, wide-eyed wonder with a lick of fear. In a wood, you never know who or what is watching.

“There is an overriding memory which still remains from when I first moved from London to Hertfordshire as a nine-year-old,” said Kim Wilde, the 49-year-old gardening presenter and former pop star. “I was completely captivated by the local woodland; I found it magical, enchanting and romantic. I loved the impact of the seasons and the wildlife it attracted.”

Heartwood is on Wilde’s doorstep. “It is an unequivocally positive scheme — environmentally, aesthetically and emotionally,” she said.

Old maps show that this land was still forested in the 18th century, part of a ring of woodland that provided London with its fuel and building materials.

A red squirrel in those days might have hopped from tree to tree all the way from Sandridge to Epping, then right around London and back again.

History cannot be reassembled, but Heartwood gives extra meaning to the green belt. It is less than 30 miles from central London and 15m people live within 20 miles of it. It reminds us that we, too, are products of nature and there is pleasure in knowing our place.

For further information about Heartwood, go to

More blog posts by Arlene

Previous post: bumblebees!Update!

Next post: Birds!



thanx arlene,very interesting blog,:o))

21 Feb, 2010


What a wonderful project Arlene. I love the idea of creating a new forest for future generations to enjoy. A very informative blog. :o)

21 Feb, 2010


The way ahead Arlene...thank you for this !

21 Feb, 2010


Good news :o)

21 Feb, 2010


~ I paid my £15 last year so among those 90000 trees that have been planted is one that I paid for although never got round to being able to plant myself~ its the sheer scale of 600.000 mature mixed decidous trees that is mind boggling~with a bit of luck I may be able to go and have a look when on one of our trips to Kew or Wisley and take some photos~
For the last few years I have taken seedlings of Sycamore Oak Rowan and Ash that have seeded into the garden and grown them until they were big enough to succeed and then taken them over to RSPCA Llys Nini where they have been planted out on their site and it's great to see them when I go over and know that they are at the start of their life ~

21 Feb, 2010


Very interesting Arlene , in the last village we lived in a very generous person gave the village a piece of land for the benefit of the village , it was decide to plant it up with trees to make a woodland , I know how hard the work involved is in digging and planting trees , that was some years ago and even now it has taken shape , it already looks like a wood , we put benches in where you can sit and take a rest also lined a pond for wild life in a corner .. It was nothing like on the scale of the above projects but if everybody could do a little area it would help ......

21 Feb, 2010


~what a lovely thing to do Amy~we definitely need as many trees as possible!

21 Feb, 2010


Thank you arlene, for a wonderful and Interesting Blog regarding our Trees and Woodlands. You are a very Dedicated Lady. It just goes to show
that planting one tree each person can do so much, and go a very long way
into helping Nature in the Future!

21 Feb, 2010


A very interesting blog enjoyed reading it.

22 Feb, 2010


Thank you so much for this, Arlene. Heartwood is a fantastic name, and this is a heart-warming story, indeed! :-))

22 Feb, 2010


~ thanks everyone~ I must say I like the Heartwood name too~it might have some bearing in the fact that it is in Hertfordshire?plus the fact that so many are putting their heart and soul into creating it like the boy scouts~I am going to try to get there this year~ I know St Albans and Watford quite well as Caz did her PHD there for three years~there are also a couple of good nurseries in the area....

22 Feb, 2010


It's good that something is being done to replace our lost trees. A few weeks ago I saw a bug oak tree being chopped down to make room for houses. I thought they could have left it there and planned the house around it. It made me feel angry.

23 Feb, 2010


Hi Hywel~they can hardly claim to be environmentally friendly!~ there are too many trees being chopped down for the flimsiest of excuses~

23 Feb, 2010


I meant big oak, not bug oak lol. I should have put my specs on :o)

23 Feb, 2010


I live near this wood and have recently been on a charity walk round it, its looking good, just a shame they plan to build a car park there as well!

4 Jan, 2011


Glad to hear that the wood is looking good :o)
... let's hope the car park isn't too intrusive ..

4 Jan, 2011


~ Hi Spophiem~I'm pleased that it is looking good.
I think the whole idea by the Woodland Trust etc is to get the public onboard~ they need financial support to achieve their aim and unfortunately that does probably mean car parking facilities~ especially if you have travelled a long way to get there which would be the case if I went from Swansea to see the tree that I paid for.

When I was at Rosemoor last year, one of the nicest car parks I've seen was with the cars tucked amongst the trees rather than barren acres of tarmac~

4 Jan, 2011

Add a comment

Featured on

Recent posts by Arlene

Members who like this blog

  • Gardening with friends since
    18 Sep, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    23 Oct, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Apr, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    22 Oct, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    14 Aug, 2008

  • amy

    Gardening with friends since
    17 Apr, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    9 Aug, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    25 Jan, 2010

  • Gardening with friends since
    20 Jan, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    10 Nov, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    31 Oct, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    29 Mar, 2008

  • uma

    Gardening with friends since
    28 Oct, 2009

  • Gardening with friends since
    24 Jun, 2007

  • Gardening with friends since
    4 Feb, 2008

  • Gardening with friends since
    19 Apr, 2010

Garden centre