Banner image: Millennium Country Park, Martin Rogers

Planting trees is the ‘sexy’ thing that we do and it’s what people want to get involved with and support financially. However, growing a forest, and a community forest at that, is about far more than getting trees in the ground.

The ethos behind community forests is to use trees to bring about not just environmental benefits, but also social and economic benefits, so the trees, and woodlands they’re in, need to be managed in order to fulfil their potential and deliver these benefits.  In the first few years after planting, the area around the young trees needs to be managed to reduce competition and allow the saplings to get established. We also undertake a ‘beat up’ for the first 3 years after planting, identifying and replacing the trees that haven’t survived. A surfaced path and site furniture are added to the woodland, increasing accessibility for the local community. Then as the woodlands grow, there’s pruning, mowing of the grassed areas, scrub clearance, boundary management, development of site specific habitats, dealing with anti-social behaviour and much more. Our 4.5 member ranger team takes care of all of this, for the 13 community woodlands we’ve planted, and the costs are borne by the Charity. The costs associated with this work vary from site to site, so a small site like Conquest Wood in Houghton Conquest costs £1700 pa to run, Rectory Woods in Cranfield costs £7200 pa, but the larger Millennium Country Park costs £25000 pa. There other costs for us to take into account too – insurances, health and safety, IT, stationery etc etc. The Charity couldn’t exist and deliver the great work that we do without incurring these costs, and they have to be covered through our income generating activities.

One of my responsibilities as the Charity’s sole fundraiser, is to raise unrestricted funds, which can be used to cover the costs highlighted above. However, this isn’t a ‘sexy’ thing to support – I can’t imagine anyone getting excited about helping us pay our bills in the same way they would about planting a tree and creating a living entity that will last for centuries!

And there you have the fundraising challenge, and it’s one which is going to become more significant in years to come.

Companies, small and large, want to get involved in tree planting, for the plethora of benefits that it delivers – mitigating carbon emissions, client and staff engagement, team building, CSR delivery, PR opportunities and environmental gains, to name a few. However, there’s a limit to the number of trees we can plant each year, with the main limiting factor being land availability. The thought of having to turn down corporate support because we don’t have enough trees to plant, gives me as a fundraiser, sleepless nights.

Image: Wells & Co corporate tree planting day at Queens Wood, Ampthill

So in looking to the future, I need to make the ‘unsexy’ more appealing, and of course there are ways you can help.

Gifts in kind are a start – do you produce or supply something that you can donate to us? The net cost of doing so may not be high, but the PR returns may be.

Encouraging more involvement in the Charity by your employees would be a huge help. A scheme such as Pennies from Payroll is simple to run and means that no-one gives more than 99p a month, but to coin a phrase – every penny helps! Fundraising activities add a bit of novelty and fun to the workplace; a bake sale, book sale, baby photo competition, a raffle – I’ve got no end of ideas to support your budding fundraisers. Following us on social media is a great way to keep up to date with our activities, and liking and sharing our posts is a great and free way to help spread the word (Socials: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter). You can also help us promote our Forest Centre events by communicating them to your teams – they’re all listed on our website. 

Another simple option is to encourage your teams to sign up to Give As You Live, so that whenever they shop online a donation is made to the Forest. It doesn’t cost the individual anything, but has the potential to raise ££s for us, especially with Christmas shopping looming!

For any of these ideas to be adopted, your staff need to be engaged and positive about us as a charity. Can you help us increase that interest? Have you got a staff newsletter or intranet that we can feature in, or do you have group meetings that we could come and talk to them at? Presenting your employees with accessible opportunities to engage in fundraising activities can have a positive effect on staff engagement and retention by demonstrating organisation ideals that they value and identify with. 

At an organisation level, would you consider supporting one of our woodlands as a sponsor and making a donation towards the annual running costs of that woodland? Is there a woodland you’ve planted at or one closest to your offices that you could support?

Image: Map of the Forest of Marston Vale

Supporting these running costs would significantly reduce the financial burden of managing our community woodlands and give us all something to shout about!

In summary, there’s lots of scope for working together and developing long-term and meaningful partnerships which are not only mutually beneficial, but also have a positive impact on the communities around us.

Drop me an email if you’re interested in talking more. Email: [email protected]