Council blames extreme weather for deaths of newly-planted trees on Hackney Marshes

Council partner Trees for Cities is ‘to look into the situation’. Photograph: Helena Smith

The Town Hall is preparing to establish how many trees recently planted on Hackney Marshes have survived after images circulating on social media appeared to show a large number as having sadly died. 

The marshes were the first place in the borough to see new planting under council commitments to plant three football pitches’ worth of trees over the next two years, with volunteers pitching in to help embed thousands of fruit and nut trees, broadleaf specimens and shrubs to create an edible woodland. 

The council’s partnership with charity Trees For Cities, through which drinks company Honest Organic funds the trees, means all specimens which have not survived will be replaced. 

The failure of so many plantings has been put down to hot weather in May, with the council stressing that all planned aftercare for the trees did take place. 

View this post on Instagram

This is what 4,000 dead trees looks like. @treesforcities planted an ‘edible forest’ on Hackney Marshes earlier this year. This was part of a carbon offsetting scheme and aimed to create a community asset… Now radio silence because it’s completely failed. Poor planting too late in the year, with no mulch and look what’s predictably happened, a carbon positive impact – digging 4,000 holes, driving equipment to the site, volunteer travel, growing the trees etc And NOONES talking about it??? The only positives are that the area is not being mowed and dragonflies are using the dead trees as perches. I wonder if they’ll say it was the hot summer or maybe coronavirus’ fault? #greenwashing #carbonoffsetting #edibleforest #trees #treeplanting #hackneymarshes

A post shared by WildHackney (@wildhackney) on

A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “We worked in partnership with charity Trees for Cities, the Tree Musketeers and local volunteers to plant the trees on Hackney Marshes, which were funded by Innocent Drinks. This is part of a commitment to plant over 36,000 trees in the borough by 2022.

“As part of our agreement, Trees for Cities will replace any saplings that do not survive. We are meeting with them in the coming week to determine those that need to be replaced.

“Unfortunately, this period of extreme weather, one of the things that urban tree planting can help to mitigate, has impacted on their ability to establish.”

According to the council, all trees on the marshes were planted in February during planting season, mulched regularly and watered during May, which was the driest on record in England with 9.6mm of rain, despite, the Town Hall said, it “not being standard practice to artificially water new saplings”.

It was previously reported that Trees for Cities, which delivered over a million trees since the early 90s, would contribute to aftercare after plantings were carried out. 

Responding to the news on social media, a spokesperson has said that its urban forest team is to look into the situation. 

The trees were supposed to have been planted in order to capture carbon as well as for the promotion of biodiversity and to encourage the community to learn more about foraging for edible fruit, nuts and leaves such as hazel, walnut and crab apple. 

Speaking to the Citizen, Debbie Mitchener of community interest company Cordwainers Grow called the situation a “shocking waste”. 

Mitchener added: “It’s heartbreaking to see this. All that work. And they’re living things, so it really does upset me. People get upset if animals get hurt, and I think trees are quite similar.”

Trees for Cities and Tree Musketeers were both approached for comment. 

Update: this article was amended at 11:03 on Tuesday 25 August 2020. The trees were planted in February, not May as originally stated.