Save the Oaks

Oak seedling, first year

James Murray-White

October 2021

Save The Oaks was set up in response to a tree emergency – most such threats are usually from felling, vandalism, or simple wanton lack of care towards a sentient upstanding tree: however, our campaign leapt into action after reading in the national media that the UK Govt had reneged upon their annual planting schedule by ordering the destruction of 750,000 UK-grown Quercus robur oak saplings, 2-3 years old, languishing in several nurseries across the Isle.

While we still don’t know the exact in’s and out’s of this, I rang 2 of the nurseries and when what we’d read was confirmed – with 1 nursery owner talking me through the annual Govt planting schedule since 1988 and then saying he would keep hold of his oaks and work them into orders the following year – a group of activist friends, grown largely from Extinction Rebellion Rewilding, sprang into action: setting up a crowdfunder to purchase oaks at a nominal low cost, pay for the delivery across the country, and then we started spreading the word through all our networks – amplified by the quiet home-life of lockdown, and started offering these trees a chance at spreading their roots. We created a database, a request form, and a spreadsheet of those requests including a map, and then grouped requests and amounts into areas from which we could find a local delivery, holding, collection hub. We got 2 tranches of trees from the biggest nursery, in Wrexham, totaling 80,000 oaks. On top of this we received another almost 80,000 mixed broadleaf varieties, offered by a national planting NGO struggling with lockdown planting.

So – crazily – in the midst of and because of Lockdown, we have in the space of a year received and given out for planting 160,000 trees – not bad for a disparate group of friends, all focused on stopping saplings being destroyed! When I reflect upon this grassroots action I like to think that a contiguous new oak forest has been created the length and breadth of the Isle. We were keen to request great care and ceremony given to the plantings, and that those who accepted them would be their guardians as best they could going forward. I’m sure many were planted in memory of loved ones lost to Covid; some have been guerrilla planted, some are in gardens, some worked into council planting schemes and bigger re-forestation or rewilding projects, and some in pots, allotments, and in edge lands, secret habitats, and more. I’m really proud that some were requested and have gone to the community buyout of Langholm Moor in the Scottish Borders.

I’d love to travel the land discovering them and calling up the planters, checking in on new growth, possible predation, talking trees, seeing these oaks saved and their life and growth as valuable and worthy, not commodities. Hopefully this “radical act of love”  – to throw in a bit of artist/poet/mystic William Blake, has enhanced and made physical and lasting the sense of a stronger connection to nature, that has been a special part of our human experience of this pandemic, that we remain flailing about within. We topped and tailed the campaign with literary events – James Canton launching his Oak Papers and Roselle Angwin her A Spell In The Forest (both events available on our website:, as a way of sealing and enhancing our human connection to the treeful world. Here’s to grassroots tree connection!

James Murray-White :

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