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Belfast plants 1 million trees with community help

The Northern Ireland capital is undertaking an ambitious carbon-reduction initiative by putting citizens at the heart of the project.

Belfast plants 1 million trees with community help media 1

Newsworthy

Group bids to plant a million trees in Belfast - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

An ambitious scheme to give Belfast a green makeover began yesterday with the planting of the first of a million trees across the city.

Group bids to plant a million trees in Belfast - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

Belfast bolsters resilience with one million trees - Smart Cities World

It is one of 30 projects in the city’s Resilience Strategy that is focused on climate change and mitigation and developing a connected, zero-emissions economy within a generation.

Belfast bolsters resilience with one million trees - Smart Cities World

Highlights

  • Belfast, GB aims to plant 1 million native trees by 2035

  • The idea came from a local residents’ group, who brought the proposal to the city council

  • Citizens are able to suggest tree-planting locations using an interactive map

  • The tree-planting program is one of many resilience tactics Belfast is using to try to reach carbon neutrality and fight climate change

Summary

Many cities and counties want to reduce their carbon footprint. Trees are carbon guzzlers, pulling carbon dioxide from the air and transforming it into clean-breathing oxygen. Planting trees, therefore, is a natural solution for cities’ sustainability goals.

Tree-planting efforts are taking root around the world, from $ Darebin, VIC’s rapid canopy project$ , which aimed to plant 6,000 trees in 15 months, to $ Atlanta, GA’s Community Urban Food Forest$ , whose newly planted trees are intended to provide free fruit and nuts to the public. Many local governments are starting tree audits, using tools like interactive maps to note green space.

In Belfast, GB, tree-planting is going big: the $ city aims to plant 1 million trees by 2035$ . That’s enough to $ fill over 500 football pitches$ . But not only is Belfast’s initiative noteworthy in its massive scale, it’s also a fantastic example of a citizen-led initiative that goes full circle: it started as a community-led recommendation, and now the public is able to weigh in on where the trees should go.

Here’s a closer look at how the project took root.



Belfast’s fight against climate change

Belfast is working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2050. This effort involves a range of programs, such as $ better housing and transport, decarbonising heating, and planting trees$ .

About $ eight percent of Northern Ireland is covered in trees — one of the lowest percentages in Europe$ . For each tree added to Belfast, a small dent is made in the city’s carbon reduction goals. $ According to one organization$ ,



“A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds per year. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car's annual mileage.”

But there are many other $ benefits of trees$ :

They make for more pleasant communities, with parks and natural spaces that appeal to residents and visitors. Having more places for citizens to enjoy the fresh air can have a big impact on local physical and mental health. Trees also provide natural habitats for birds, insects, and wildlife, strengthening the local ecosystem. They can fight heat waves and flooding, by cooling the air and absorbing stormwater.

On top of that, planting trees is a communal activity, and can foster connections and community pride among residents.

$ As Belfast Metropolitan Residents Group Spokesman Peter Carr puts it$ :

"More trees should, at the very least, make Belfast a happier, healthier, more beautiful city that works better for its people and wildlife.”

A citizen-led movement

Carr’s group, the Belfast Metropolitan Residents Group (BMRG), were actually the ones who first brought the tree-planting idea to the city council in 2019. Local officials saw the plan’s potential, and set out to make it happen.

The result was the $ One Million Trees Project$ , which aims to plant one million native trees around the city by 2035.

One million trees is a lot of trees. A project of this size needs cooperation to get done. The city is engaging partners throughout the community and Great Britain, engaging everyone from businesses who may have land to support tree growth or schools to get them involved in the project. Part of the funding comes from grants, such as $ £290,000 from the Woodland Trust$ , which aims to help councils around the UK build green spaces and plant more trees in their localities.

Crowdsourcing the project

A key community group to engage with a project like this is the public itself. As the trees have a direct impact on the people who live in Belfast, the city is inviting residents to get involved in a number of ways.

One of the most innovative community engagement tactics is the use of crowdsourcing to collect suggestions for where the trees should be planted. The city launched an $ interactive map$ , which opens for submission periods for a set amount of time each year. Residents can plot their preferred tree locations, and add comments about why the spot would benefit from trees. They can estimate how many trees the space would accommodate. They can even add photos.

(The map is still available to view outside the submission period.)

People from Belfast have been weighing in. A user named H31E $ posts at Cairnshill Primary School$ :

“The school gets a lot of wind and trees would protect the school grounds and enable kids to enjoy outdoors more. It would also generate a lot of interest in nature for the kids.”

Another user named JFK $ pinned a small street named Purdy’s Lane and noted$ :

“There’s a narrow strip of land between the front wall of Belvoir Golf Club and the pavement. Planting a row of suitable native trees here (and on the unused patches of grass outside the houses directly opposite) would transform this stretch of Church Road into a tree lined avenue.”

Belfast’s broader resilience plan

While impactful, tree-planting alone cannot solve Belfast’s carbon neutral goals. According to a $ Belfast Climate Commission report$ :

“...In theory Belfast could offset its residual emissions through a UK based tree planting scheme; however this would require the planting of 62 million trees, which even with the densest possible planting would require 14000 hectares of land, equivalent to 122% of the total land area of the city.”

Instead, the trees are one branch of a more comprehensive vision to make Belfast a more resilient and future-proof city.

The city’s $ Resilience Strategy$  encompasses $ over 30 initiatives like the Million Trees$ , with the overall goals of combating climate change, transitioning to a zero-emissions economy, and doing it all with community participation — especially among young people who will be the key to continuity and sustained resiliency.

Such ambitious goals can be overwhelming, costly, and hard to measure specific progress. To stay focused, the Belfast council made sure that each individual project within the larger Resiliency Plan was carbon neutral or negative, so that nothing would be added to the footprint Belfast is working to reduce. Each project also had to be economically sustainable.

The community involvement piece is critical — not just to hold the city accountable, but because residents were already doing a lot of work on their own to make Belfast more sustainable. According to $ Grainia Long, the former commissioner for resilience at Belfast City Council$ :

“What we found was a city whereby a huge, huge amount of work was ongoing. Some of it was really quite targeted and focused on either adaptation or mitigation [of climate change].”

As we’ve seen with other $ citizen engagement-based projects$ , bringing the community into the process makes it easier to gain public approval of the city’s efforts. It also raises awareness and shares responsibility for the sustainability work that Belfast has committed to. Finally, it creates a critical ally for an ambitious project, where more participation will make faster and more successful work.

Additional Story Information

Governments

BC

Belfast City Council, GB

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United Kingdom

Resources

One Million Trees plan

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