As we reflect on times past and times to come, we present this summary of our activities since 2014. THANK YOU for your support!
(You can skip the recap and head down to news of future plantings at the bottom if you prefer).
How we Started
Reimagining the Levels is a Community Benefit Society formed in the aftermath of the devasting floods of 2013/14 on the Somerset Levels. The impact of these floods on individuals, communities, the economy and the environment demonstrated the pressing need to build a resilient landscape that could survive the impact of more frequent extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
From its initial meetings, Reimagining the Levels published a report that brought together the challenges facing the landscapes and communities in this unique and fragile place and identified some possible sustainable solutions. Reimagining the Levels, Making the Connections emphasised the necessity for joined-up thinking and action to meet these challenges but at its very heart was the need to maximise the engagement of local people, many of whom were affected by the floods, in determining the priorities for social and economic development and environmental protection.
It became clear that a focus on tree, shrub and hedge (re)planting would enable delivery of many of the solutions identified in the Report. Trees help to prevent flooding by slowing the flow of water, allowing it to percolate through the soil into the aquifers rather than overwhelming streams and rivers. They reduce pollution, keep soil nutrient-rich, provide shelter, wood, fruit and nuts and play a significant role in carbon capture. They increase biodiversity supporting wildlife and insects and play an important role in the mental and physical health of us all. In the planting years 2017-2019 RtL was involved in supporting landowners in planting hedges, woodland and orchards of some 30 sites many using volunteers.
In 2019 and at the beginning of 2020 we organised two Conferences with invitations sent to every parish council in the four Districts of Somerset and set out the case for increased tree planting in these localities. Grants for planting has almost exclusively been for large tracts of land and it was important to emphasise the contribution smaller plantings can make to flood mitigation, particularly when informed by local knowledge ie where the flooding occurs in times of heavy rainfall. Local small plantings would also inevitably draw in local people and thus increase their sense of connection and ownership of the trees.
Public and Partnership Engagement
The response has been overwhelmingly positive with high attendance and engagement at both Conferences. Individuals and community groups have identified plots of land, some big, some small where trees can be planted.
With such an enthusiastic uptake from the Parish Councils we approached the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West and the Somerset Rivers Authority who agreed to fund a tree planting programme for better water management. The Trees for Water Scheme, focused at the moment in South Somerset and Mendip Districts, offers grants, advice on planting, trees, protectors and fencing for planting on areas that help the absorption and flow of water in the main river catchments, the Brue, Axe and Parrett and tributaries. At the time of writing, there are 7 approved schemes and another 8 that have been visited and considered viable.
1st Volunteer Planting for Trees for Water
On Saturday 12 December our first Covid-secure volunteer tree planting event took place on a glorious site on the middle catchment above the Somerset Levels. The sun shone as 18 happy people planted 150 native species of trees and shrubs on a sloping south facing field sheltered from the cold wind. Site owner Caterine provided delicious soup and told us:
“Climate change has been forefront in my mind for some time and planting trees on a slope behind the house seemed something positive I could do. It feels a privilege that I can do this for future generations. I’m looking forward to showing my grandchildren the new trees and following their growth over the years. An unexpected benefit has been meeting a group of friendly, generous, like-minded people who I look forward to planting more trees with in the New Year”.
Reimagining the Levels reputation for delivering grows
Following our success with the Trees for Water scheme, we were approached by the Environment Agency to deliver Riparian (riverbank) planting, again to help with water management. This scheme has again been hugely popular with 12 plantings going forward for approval. This ‘Woodlands for Water’ funding forms part of the £640 million Nature for Climate fund to support the government’s tree planting commitment and will be used for this. The project, which is being spearheaded by FWAG SW and RtLs will see 29,973 trees and hedging planted across Somerset and we are pleased to play our part in this.
Trees, Trees Everywhere
The wonderful Woodland Trust has provided us with 14000 healthy trees, shrubs and hedging plants of some 35 species. Another 4000 are coming shortly. We have worked hard at creating a Tree Nursery from scratch, where the trees can await collection before their final planting.
And Now …
Despite 2020 being a terrible year, trees are being planted and new, healthier landscapes are being formed. The total of allocated trees is presently around 8000; the smallest scheme we have supported is for just 100 trees and the largest 1000; the furthest south we have planted in Chard and the furthest North is Wanstrow. We have supported planting in or around Community Farmland, Recreational Ground, Ancient Woodland, an Ecological Land Cooperative as well as private land and applications are still coming in.
Volunteers will be needed for planting in January, February and March, dates to be confirmed, and if this is something you would like to get involved with, please send your contact details to Kate Towers. firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07872-664543.
Once again, thank you for your continued interest and commitment to our vision for revitalising and safeguarding the landscapes and communities of the Somerset Levels.