For centuries people have said it with flowers but research suggests a new tradition is gaining popularity in the UK – expressing love, thanks, perhaps even regret with the gift of a tree.
A third of people said they would consider saying it with a tree rather than a bouquet and more than one in 10 had already done so, according to the research commissioned by the National Trust.
However, the conservation charity also said only 7% of people in the UK knew the best time of year to plant, and it was launching a drive to improve “tree literacy”.
The research, carried out by YouGov in September as the leaves began to turn and released before the Tree Council’s national tree week, beginning on Saturday, found that 49% of UK adults would consider planting a tree to help the environment, while 35% would think about giving a gift of a tree rather than flowers, with 12% already having done so.
Trees appear to have become more important to people since the Covid crisis, with more than a quarter of those polled saying they noticed trees more than before the pandemic. Almost 40% said they took “considerable notice” of how trees changed throughout the year.
The question of when to plant was trickier, with 42% saying spring was the ideal time to plant rather than winter. Spring and summer are the worst time for planting, the trust says, as young trees need a lot of water. Also, broad leaf trees are dormant in winter so can be moved from nurseries and planted with minimal impact and stress to the tree.
Celia Richardson, the trust’s director of communications and audience, said the charity was detecting a changing relationship between people and trees. “There’s a Greek proverb that says a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit. We’re delighted by the growing enthusiasm among donors and gift-givers for trees that will serve everyone long into the future,” she said.
“We think it’s part of a changing relationship. We know people are noticing and talking about the trees around them more and social media is full of the joys of things like #treeoftheday. Trees were hugely important features of society and culture in the past, and it’s so good to see signs that we are returning to closer relationships with them.”
Donations to the National Trust’s Plant a Tree appeal topped GBP1m this year and the charity is aiming to plant more than 600,000 trees this winter. One of the interesting projects is the Clough Woodland Restoration Project in Derbyshire, where at least 39,000 trees are being planted. Cloughs are steep valleys or ravines.
Jonathan Collett, manager of the project, said: “Due to the sites being hard to access, we are having to heli-lift in the stakes to support the new trees being planted so this site is a bit more complicated – but we definitely think it will be worth the effort. We’re planting native broad leaf trees including holly, hawthorn, sessile oak, alder, rowan, bird cherry, downy and silver birch. Once established, the trees will make fantastic homes for birds such as siskins, treecreepers and spotted flycatcher.”