Mini-forests will be sprouting up in all kinds of local places, on private and public land, on allotments and in school grounds. This is the ambition of both The Tree Council and The Hampshire Forest Partnership who are together trialling a technique which is based on the work of a Japanese ecologist, that will revive urban spaces as well as provide fast-growing ecosystems able to lock up carbon and absorb pollution.

At the Adhurst allotments, adjacent to Petersfield Community Garden off Water Lane, a new Miyawaki forest is being planted on a 330m2 plot. Commissioned by Hampshire County Council (HCC), who have partnered with The Tree Council for this National Tree Week planting, the technique involves turf removal and deep harrowing over the whole site to increase the amount of oxygen in the soil. Forest and farm-based compost is added in stages and the area divided into 1m2 sections. Each square receives either three or five small trees, or “whips”. The theory is that this dense planting is the key to fast growth in which the trees are competing with one another. 

The Miyawaki project comprises part of HCC's drive to create five new mini forests in the county within the new Hampshire Forest Partnership. The mini forest project in Sheet will provide a blueprint for another four small forests across Hampshire using the Miyawaki method. 

The Hampshire Forest Partnership aims to create opportunities for local volunteering, partnership working with other organisations, and commercial sponsorship. The second location will be announced shortly, while communities are invited to contact HCC with suggested locations of three additional mini forests. The technique works particularly well in urban and semi-urban settings where there is a lack of space for larger woodlands.   

At Adhurst, the ground preparation and tree planting are delivered by 30 corporate volunteers from Savill's, Fenwick, Drop Project Brewing and LaSalle Investment Management.

The species planted are native to the area and chosen for height variation and the wildlife they might attract. They include hawthorn, crabapple, hazel, sweet chestnut, hornbeam, oak and guelder rose. The planting will complement the South Downs National Park open planting of disease-resistant elm at the site. 

Phil Paulo, Head of Major Tree Planting Programmes at the Tree Council, said, “What we can deliver is fast-growing urban ecosystems which are a timely response to the climate and biodiversity crisis. Using various sources of tree funding, we can mobilise local volunteers, or corporate groups taking a few days away from the office, and project manage the work on a variety of sites around Petersfield”.

In many respects the development of Miyawaki Forests across the country is an exercise in citizen science. Wildlife surveys made over time will demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach to habitat creation. At Adhurst, the hope is that the hazel dormouse will be enticed to take up residence since it has been recorded nearby. To this end the work also involves dense hedgerow planting and protecting the existing bramble, a favourite food of the dormouse.


Melanie Oxley