Woodland volunteers finish planting 100,000 trees

Enfield Chase Restoration Project has transformed 60 hectares of land since launching in autumn 2020, reports James Cracknell

Volunteers get stuck in at one of the Enfield Chase Restoration Project planting days
Volunteers get stuck in at one of the Enfield Chase Restoration Project planting days

The final tree of a new Enfield woodland has been planted – thanks to the efforts of more than 600 volunteers.

Over two seasons, 100,000 trees have been planted on 60 hectares of former farmland in an area that was once a royal hunting ground.

Enfield Chase Restoration Project was launched in autumn 2020 as a joint venture between Enfield Council, which owns the land, and environmental charity Thames 21, which has been running the volunteering programme.

Nik Cain, a woodland creation officer for Thames 21, has been in charge of organising the project. After the final tree was planted on Saturday, 5th March, Nik told the Dispatch: “There is a huge sense of achievement. When we started, there were these massive empty fields, but thanks to our volunteers we have gradually seen it chipped away.”

The woodland now stretches from Trent Park in the west, along the route of the London Loop towards Hilly Fields in Clay Hill. It encompasses the valleys of both the Salmons and Turkey brooks, helping to alleviate flood risk further downstream in Edmonton, where the two streams merge with the River Lea.

New footpaths have been laid as part of the project to help make the woodland accessible and improve the route of the London Loop
New footpaths have been laid as part of the project to help make the woodland accessible and improve the route of the London Loop

As well planting trees, the project has seen new footpaths laid to make the London Loop more accessible and open up the land to the public.

During the first winter planting season Thames 21 had to contend with a pandemic lockdown which forced the charity to cancel most volunteering sessions and instead use staff to plant trees and stay on schedule.

Nik said: “It was severely disrupted by Covid, we only did nine volunteering events before Christmas [2020] before it fell apart.

“Being an outdoors thing, we felt it was relatively safe, so it caught us by surprise.”

Volunteers attending the very first planting session in November 2020
Volunteers attending the very first planting session in November 2020

Thames 21 staff who had been recruited to help run the volunteering sessions instead found themselves wielding spades and working long hours to help keep the project on track. The second season, starting in November 2021, was different – with hundreds of volunteers able to join in.

“It was nice that we had people who became regular volunteers, because you get to know people. It is a good feeling to see them enjoying planting trees, and there is a social part to it as well.

“We’ve also had about ten days dedicated to primary schools – the kids absolutely loved it.”

Many of the volunteers involved with the project have been local people, with a new community group called Friends of Enfield Chase being formed by residents who wish to continue their involvement with the new woodland.

Although all of the trees are now planted, weekly maintenance sessions will continue through the spring and summer, on Wednesdays, to repair any damaged tree guards and ensure the young woodland is well looked after.

A total of 100,000 trees have been planted on 60 hectares of land since November 2020
A total of 100,000 trees have been planted on 60 hectares of land

Future work could see the route of the London Loop diverted underneath Rendelsham Viaduct, a railway bridge that has been closed off behind fencing for decades. With permission from Network Rail, the footpath would connect up with Hilly Fields on the other side, following the banks of Turkey Brook.

Nik said he was keen for Thames 21 to stay involved and continue its work with Enfield Council, helping to further rewild the borough with other tree planting and river management projects. “The aspiration is to carry on,” said Nik.

Enfield Chase Restoration Project has cost £1.3million in total, with £748,000 provided by the Mayor of London, £425,000 by the Forestry Commission, and £150,000 from the council itself.

Deputy council leader Ian Barnes says he is keen for many more trees to be planted in Enfield in future. Cllr Barnes said: “In years to come we will have a beautiful woodland composed of native trees such as wild cherry, aspen and beech trees, easily accessible via fantastic new walking and cycling paths, and I would like us to keep planting!

“We want to plant a million new trees across our borough to create London’s newest forest.”

Shirley Rodrigues, London’s deputy mayor for environment and energy, said: “This new woodland is an incredible achievement and the result of two years’ hard work by dedicated community volunteers, Thames21 and Enfield Council, with support from the Mayor of London. It’s exactly the type of bold action we want to see across London to improve biodiversity, reduce flooding and ensure all Londoners have access to nature on their doorstep.”

As part of Enfield Council’s climate action commitments, there is a target to plant more than 300 hectares of publicly accessible woodland in the north and west of the borough, capturing more than 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per annum.

In addition, the council has committed £500,000 to plant 1,000 new street trees in 2022/23, a 50% increase on the year before.