Faith in Trees

Spring is perhaps everybody’s favourite season; the temperature begins to change to a normal level so it’s not too cold like winter and not too hot like summer. Throughout the whole of spring, the weather stays like this, and then begins warming towards the end. The nights become more pleasant and comfortable. The spring season is very effective, as it arrives; it wakes up everything in nature; like trees, grasses, flowers, crops, animals, humans and other living things from the long sleep of winter. Human beings start to wear their new and bright clothes, trees blossom with new beautifully green leaves and flowers become more fresh and colourful. Fields everywhere become full with new grasses and thus nature looks green and fresh.

So continuing Footsteps theme of promoting faiths for a low carbon future and living in harmony with the environment, here is a report of a recent initiative by ‘Small Footsteps’ to plant wild harvest trees in a local park in Balsall Heath, Birmingham to celebrate the arrival of Spring.

On Saturday 18th March 2017, over 30 people from different faith backgrounds came together and planted 105 wild harvest tree saplings at the Pickwick Park in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham and to then pick up litter from the surrounding streets.

The aim of this activity was to create a sense of empowerment of a clean and friendly environment and to learn the importance of our own responsibility towards our planet. The event was a joint effort by Footsteps, The Woodland Trust and the Balsall Heath Forum and ran from 10am-1pm.

The tree planting session offered the perfect opportunity for children and their parents to get together and understand the benefits of trees, share in their belief that they are the guardians of the planet and jointly plant trees for both people and nature to enjoy. The event was a huge success and we had a mixture of people from the Islamic, Christian, Arya Samaj and Hindu faith. We were also joined by the local neighbourhood policing team who actively took part in planting with the children to promote a beautiful environment in the area. Abdullah Rehman MBE, Chief Executive of the Balsall Heath Forum was very helpful when we first approached him in the summer for his support and permission to plant in the parks.

So why and how did we come up with the idea to plant trees? In the summer of 2016, Footsteps held a week long environmental workshop for young people titled ‘Small Footsteps’ so they could learn about their relationship with nature. The workshops covered topics such as food, water, recycling, energy, bees, ecology, climate change and trees. The lessons were held in a different place of worship each day to symbolise the fact that all of our religions and faiths teach the same about our environment and that we are protectors of this planet. The individual workshops were highly interactive which allowed our young participants to explore the topic in detail and in a fun environment. We were unable to plant trees during the tree session due to the summer not being a suitable season for it. In the winter, we came across a campaign by the Woodlands Trust, who were calling for community groups to apply for a variety of trees to plant in the spring. We immediately thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to re-gather the Small Footsteps alumni and have them plant these trees.

We were successful in our application and were awarded 105 wild harvest trees to plant. We were given three different types of fruit trees; cherry, dog rose and blackthorn. These early flowering trees provide a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in the spring, their foliage is food plant for caterpillars of many moths and butterflies. Birds nest amongst the dense thorny tickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves and feast on the berries from the trees.

Upon the arrival of the trees, we immediately let all the parents of the Small Footstep alumni know of the date and venue and invited them to plant trees with us. We were also joined by a journalist from the BBC World Service who was recording the tree planting activity for a programme called Guardians of Creation, part of a series called Heart and Soul. The radio programme is exploring the idea that there is a growing environmental movement within faith communities and that their driving force comes from the belief that they are guardians of creation – stewards of the earth. Children, their parents, Footsteps organising committee and other members of the public joined us in the morning which began with a trees briefing and an educational presentation where they were informed about the purpose of the activity, the benefits of trees and what type of trees they were planting.

Very much to our surprise all the children were able to identify many benefits to trees which they had learnt at Small Footsteps in the summer of 2016. They identified that trees:

  1. Clean the air
  2. Provide oxygen
  3. Provide a habitat for wildlife
  4. Combats greenhouse gases
  5. Creates unity
  6. Preserves water
  7. Provides medicines
  8. Provides shade
  9. Prevents water pollution
  10. Provides wood and resources
  11. Provides food
  12. Marks the seasons
  13.  Reduces violence
  14. Creates economic opportunities
  15. Prevents soil erosion

These children were very talented, why were we even surprised??? Once the educational briefing was over, all participants were put into groups, given their equipment (gardening gloves, trowels and litter pickers and black bags) and off they went to Pickwick Park. The groups were split into two teams; one team took on the litter challenge of St Paul’s Road and Oldfield Road whilst the other team planted trees. Half way through the session, these teams were swapped around so everyone had a chance to take part in each task.

The day was just so beautiful, the sun was shining, it was a warm temperature and everyone was planting their trees with ‘love’ (as an organising member of Footsteps reminded everyone during the introductory session). Not only was the morning a way to break down barriers, it was an excellent way to remind people of faith backgrounds to do something nice in the community for mother nature, to give back and to rediscover that our faiths have many teachings about protecting the planet.

The morning culminated with everyone meeting back at the tree nursery and snacking on home-made sandwiches, vegetable chips and cordial drinks in celebration of their achievement that morning.

Save the date: Small Footsteps will run from 31st July to 4th August 2017.

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