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Tales of Covid – Abundance London

With London councils focussing their attention about matters of life and death from March 2020 on, it is perhaps not surprising that here and there the environment was allowed to suffer. Abundance London is a voluntary organisation, founded in Chiswick in 2010, that harvests surplus fruit, plants orchards, hedgerows and trees, tries to reconnect people with nature and protect it in an urban setting, creates beautiful spaces, mainly through planting but also through art.

Early on in the first lockdown, founder Karen Liebreich realised that an avoidable environmental failure was looming in this normally leafy part of west London. Hounslow Borough Council had planted 125 new trees along streets throughout Chiswick in May, bang in the middle of the heatwave which hit London during those strange early days of lockdown.

Tree planting

Normally, trees should be planted in February to give the roots time to establish themselves, and it was obvious to Karen and her volunteers that, without help, all 125 trees would wither and die in the heat, as there was no sign of any council workers being sent to water them regularly. Karen comments: “We should all be aware of the importance of trees in fighting the effects of climate change and as pollution mitigators.”

In 2019, Hounslow, along with many other London Boroughs, declared a climate emergency and tree planting was declared an important plank of this strategy. In addition to their contractual obligations to replace dead or removed trees, Hounslow Highways stepped up and offered to plant an extra tree around the borough for each of their 140 members of staff.

That’s the good news. A lovely selection of new trees, including hornbeams, liquidambar, tulip trees, sweetgum, field maples and whitebeam, were planted. The bad news was that the planting took too many months and was only completed in mid-May, during a long spring drought that had so far lasted three months.

Abundance London – saving the trees

This was the driest May since 1896, with only 10mm of rain, following on the sunniest April ever. “In theory Hounslow Highways would have watered each tree. In practice, they did not get round the trees in time as there were simply too many planted out of season, it was too dry and of course there was a pandemic on so they had other stuff to do too. We could either wring our hands, blame ‘the council’ and watch the young trees die, or we could step up, roll up our sleeves and fill our watering cans.”

And that is what she and 85 other volunteers did over the summer months: every couple of days, a volunteer would fill two buckets of water, take them to the tree from Karen’s list which they had agreed to ‘adopt’ and give it the water it needed to survive.

A perfect example of London’s residents joining forces to volunteer during lockdown, with the end result being that the trees all survived and many Chiswick residents met other residents for the first time in a spirit of friendly community.

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Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

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