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Bishop Martin's jubilee tree project is growing . . .




Some of us need some help getting things done. We have a project we want to undertake, maybe around the home, or in our community, but it feels quite ambitious, and we have developed all sorts of ways of putting it off.

We know we really want to do it, but on our own we may well just keep it in the when-I-get-round-to-it pile.

So one of the strategies that works for me, so I do actually get on with it, is to tell people I am going to do it.

Bishop Martin Seeley
Bishop Martin Seeley

Suddenly I am accountable, and while no one may ask how it is going, you know someone might, and that is enough of an impetus to get on with it.

So a couple of years ago I thought it would be a good idea to grow trees from seed, to give one to every one of the 450 or so parishes across the county, to plant in their churchyards to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

This was just a thought I had had on my own, and I was not quite sure how to do it, or whether it made sense. And it would be very easy to put it so far on the back burner that it never happened.

Welcome help to grow trees from seed
Welcome help to grow trees from seed

So I told a few people about it. Crucially, I told Frances Jannaway, the coordinator of the Suffolk Tree Warden Network. A network I had no idea existed.

She was very clear that I needed to do this not from seeds I had bought, but from seeds that had been collected here in Suffolk.

That was back in early Spring 2020. Rather naively, I thought I could buy seeds, plant them, and they would sprout, all in a month or so, and by the time of the Jubilee I would have two-year-old saplings to give away.

I had yet to learn about tree seeds and germination, the need, for example, for them to be in prolonged periods of cold (winter, or a few months in the fridge) before they would wake up and germinate.

And you collect seeds in the autumn, not in the spring, obviously, so I was already too late.

But I had told someone, and someone who could guide me.

So I was already a year behind, and then with one thing and another – or one thing really, the pandemic – it was not until October 2020 that I got back in touch with Frances, already probably too late.

Fortunately, her network of wonderful volunteers had been collecting seeds, and with a couple of forays with my wife to various Suffolk woodlands I soon had collected or been given a couple of hundred hornbeam and a couple of hundred field maple seeds.

Now I needed to tell a few more people, because the danger of delaying again was too risky with all these seeds entrusted to me, so I wrote about it in one of my weekly columns for this paper. One way of letting people know, to hold you to account.

By now I had joined the network of Suffolk Tree Wardens, and particularly the group of people that were operating tree nurseries – known, logically, as 'tree nurses' – and through Zoom meetings I was able to learn more about what to do and how to do it.

And, of course, more people knew I was trying, so I was accountable again.

So over the winter I kept pots and trays of sandy soil with seeds mixed in them – 'stratified' – outdoors by the side of the house, for them to have that long cold incubation spell, and then each week as spring began I would tip them out to see if any were sprouting.

I was aiming for 400. I had planted about 400 seeds, but already had learned that they don’t all germinate, and in fact Hornbeam has only a 50 per cent germination rate.

But that would still be 200.

I had a picture in my mind – not necessarily shared with my family – of part of the vegetable plot covered in 200 pots with these tree saplings popping out of them. A miniature forest.

You can imagine what happened. There was one early field maple that had sprouted. Then nothing for a while. Then one or two hornbeam. Then a few more.

I would carefully plant them out in seed trays that Frances had given me, one in each cell, and watch them to make sure they were moist but not too wet.

And they have all so far survived.

But 'all' means 17 hornbeam and 16 field maple.

It’s a start, though, and maybe all 450 parishes didn’t want another tree for their churchyard anyway.

And like so much of what this last 15 months has been like, I have learned to pay attention to and be grateful for the small things, the small blessings, that may have gone unnoticed before.

I just have to help these new trees grow – and I know my fellow tree nurses will guide me in this too.

And now I’ve told you, I’ll want to let you know how they are getting on – a double insurance to make sure I stick with it, in the hope these plants eventually become trees and flourish here in Suffolk.

-- The Right Rev Martin Seeley is Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

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