There are more trees and shrubs in Belfast than people, and the One Million Trees project more than doubles that number.
As of 2020, it is a 15-year program to increase tree cover.
This was one of the reasons Belfast was listed as one of the world’s leading cities for climate action in 2022.
The One Million Trees project has the support of planting organisations, landowners and Belfast City Council.
“We applied to the main planting organizations – Woodland Trust, National Trust, Conservation Volunteers, Belfast Hills Partnership – and got support from landowners,” said Peter Carr of the One Million Trees Project.
“With growers and landowners on board, we could approach politicians.
“The City Council has taken responsibility for the project. It’s an ambitious goal, but we feel that if we can get community support, the city behind us, we hope we can meet that goal.”
While the cold weather may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s perfect for planting young seedlings around the city.
Queen’s University Belfast volunteers are supporting the project by growing indigenous seedlings at the Lennoxvale nursery in south Belfast, with the help of the Sans Souci Residents Committee.
“We planted and grew about 1,000 seedlings,” said Sara Lynch, the university’s sustainability manager.
“Recently, these saplings were replanted at Malone Playing Fields, so we planted about 500 native oaks there.
“The acorns from which these oaks grew came from Belvoir Park Forest, which is home to some of Ireland’s oldest oak trees.”
This has helped to unite the community in the Malone area.
“It’s great to just get out into nature for mental health,” said Lydia Hosain, a QUB Handy Helper volunteer.
“Meeting new people and locals definitely helps.
“When you’re a student living at Queen’s you don’t get to meet other people from Belfast, but with Handy Helpers and initiatives like helping with the tree nursery you really get to meet new people and that’s fantastic.”
In addition to improving the appearance of the city, trees play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide and improving air quality.
They also help prevent flooding and support local biodiversity.
The iTrees Eco Report, carried out in 2022, found that almost a quarter of Belfast (23%) is made up of woodlots, with around 808,000 trees and shrubs, consisting of 83 species.
There were marked differences in tree cover across the city, ranging from 32% in Poleglass to just 4% in Shankill.
And he estimated the “aesthetic value” of this canopy cover at £4.6 billion, thanks to the trees’ ability to absorb carbon, cooling effect and contribution to flood mitigation.
“There are many benefits to planting trees,” said Peter.
“It will help us fight climate change, improve the health of the population, increase the beauty and comfort of the city.
“So many benefits of planting trees.”
The One Million Trees project is a bit ahead of schedule as around 64,000 trees have already been planted.
It helped Belfast get an A rating from an international charity for its efforts to tackle climate change.
“There are many ways you can get involved,” said Peter.
“You can get involved individually, you can get involved through your work, your church, your children’s schools, sports clubs – in different ways to contribute.
“And we feel that if the city is behind the project, we have a real chance of meeting that one million tree goal.
“In a small town with a relatively small population of trees, we hope this will be a transformation for Belfast.”