Thrings Meets… Avon Needs Trees

Thrings PR Manager Aaron Sims meets Susan Barker, Conservation and Heritage Coordinator at Bristol/Bath-based woodland charity Avon Needs Trees

Aaron Sims: What is Avon Needs Trees and how did it start?

Susan Barker: Avon Needs Trees is a charity focused on creating new permanent woodlands across the Bristol-Avon River catchment area to tackle the climate and nature crises and help restore nature to the region for generations to come.

We were founded in 2019 by five volunteers who were concerned by how much woodland had been lost across the West of England region in recent decades.

Whilst there was tree planting taking place, it wasn’t enough and they felt the best way to ensure the permanence of new woodland was own the land, and for the creation and maintenance of the sites to be supported by like-minded volunteers.

Since its creation, the charity has bought a piece of land each year, looking to increase our impact each time, with our first sites in Wiltshire – Hazeland and Pudding Brook Wood – being relatively small at 34 and 14 acres in size respectively. This was then followed about 18 months ago by our acquiring 113-acres of land in Somerset for our site Great Avon Wood for which the first round of planting completed earlier this year.

AS: What are you currently working on?

SB: We have just completed the purchase of land for our most ambitious project to date, Lower Chew Forest, which will be based at Wick Farm in Compton Dando, south of Bristol. Once planted, the 422-acre site will be home to up to 100,000 new trees as well as brand new habitats and hedgerows to really help nature and biodiversity flourish.  Our aim is to have Lower Chew Forest planted over the course of the next two winters.

AS: Why is this kind of work so important?

SB: As our founders knew when they first set up the charity, the tree cover in our region is really quite low by UK standards and something needed to be done. By creating and maintaining woodland, you are creating the space for nature to recover and for species to return and thrive, not to mention the additional benefits for the likes of natural flood management and carbon capture.

Then there are the benefits for people. By bringing the community together, giving them the skills and experience around tree planting and tree maintenance, not only are you giving them the know-how but also the understanding as to why this is important which will encourage them to want to look after these sites in the long term.

It is a huge people-powered effort to create and maintain these woodlands and seeing people become so enthused by our work is really heartening. In our last season, we have had more than a thousand people volunteer, many of whom get inspired on one of our planting days and decide to take on higher-level volunteering. We have even had people who go on to seek a job in the green economy, working for nature charities and continuing to share that passion and knowledge!

AS: How can people get involved?

SB: There are three main ways we encourage people to support us – through volunteering for our planting and maintenance days, through donations that help us plant our woodlands, and through landowners bringing forward sites for us to plant on. Each is just as important as the next and whether you can spare some time, some change or some acres, you’ll be doing something tremendous to support our work.

AS: What is next for Avon Needs Trees?

SB: We will continue to look for new sites for the future but our main focus over the coming months is to progress our work at Great Avon Wood, maintaining the first batch of planted trees whilst preparing for the coming planting season. This is coupled with our efforts to get everything ready at Lower Chew Farm to start the monumental challenge of planting thousands of new trees.

Each woodland is an exciting new opportunity that, whilst being a long-term project that could take decades to fully come to fruition, will really start to show progress from a few months in and we are excited to share that with our volunteers and supporters as we go on this journey together!

To find out more about Avon Needs Trees, and how you can get involved, visit

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