England & Wales Climate action and sustainable development

Funding street trees: collaborative project to green up neighbourhoods


Credit: Trees for Streets

In the current situation, with English councils facing increasingly tight financial constraints, plans to increase street tree planting often feel more aspirational than achievable. Many councils can just about afford to maintain their existing street trees, and some not even that. But with councils facing similar increasing pressure to respond to climate change challenges, natural restoration needs, health and wellbeing concerns and more, the big question for the long term is, can they really afford not to pursue these greener ambitions?

The bigger picture

Tree planting is no small agenda, with the UK Government having set out plans to plant 30,000 hectares of woodland by March 2025 and outlining a statutory target of reaching 16.5% tree and woodland cover by 2050 – which is a fundamental requirement for meeting the national net zero targets.

This all comes as part of a push towards combatting climate change, improving biodiversity and ensuring sufficient timber supply. However, the Environmental Audit Committee review in July 2023, found the progress in England to be ‘way off meeting its contributions to that UK-wide goal.” At the scale required to hit targets, the committee offered several suggestions for making improvements, including streamlining tree planting policies and creating a cohesive vision for the timber sector. As Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, explains in the review:

“The public sector is only responsible for a quarter of UK woodland. The private sector is therefore responsible for the lion’s share of planting, but with unclear strategies, overly bureaucratic schemes and a lack of clear leadership on planting on the public estate, there is little in way of incentive.”

Although woodlands are where the bulk of the impact needs to be had, there are still other public spaces worth pursuing to contribute towards these targets and the overall positive outcomes of tree planting, including our very own streets.

Trees for Street scheme in action in Coventry Credit: Trees for Streets

Trees for Streets – a partnership for councils and communities

A national tree charity, Trees for Cities, working in collaboration with the civic innovator, Start with Local, is making positive in-roads in the street tree space with their UK-wide project, Trees for Streets.

Trees for Streets is a national street tree sponsorship scheme to drive forward community-led street planting. The aim of the project is to make it as easy as possible for residents and local businesses to donate to planting new street trees in their community and then they work with the local council to help make this come to fruition. The trees can be planted in locations of their own choosing or pre-selected locations, which often include areas of low canopy cover and high deprivation.

The charity manages the relationships with the sponsors, including admin and payments, whilst the council retains the job of approving and planting sponsored trees.

Money is raised from individual donations for single trees, groups fundraising for multiple trees, and corporations wanting to green up their neighbourhoods. The Trees for Streets online platform includes crowdfunding functionality.

The scheme is promoted through social media, door-drops, press/PR and each council’s own in-house communications. Trees for Streets also engage directly with the local community to encourage tree sponsorship, from informal street groups through to community associations.

What difference is one tree at a time going to make?

Planting more street trees is something that a growing number of people and organisations want to do. There is now a better understanding about the impact that street trees have on wellbeing, the local environment and protecting against extreme weather (both higher temperatures and heavier rain). On the website, Trees for Streets outlines that:

“Every £1 spent on trees, saves the UK £7 in healthcare, energy and environmental costs.”

A resident sponsor from Tower Hamlets. Credit: Trees for Streets

While many councils already offer the opportunity to fund trees, Trees for Streets makes it a much simpler process for residents to get a tree planted on their local streets. The project organisers were inspired by stories of ‘Plant A Tree In ‘73’, and wanted to bring tree sponsorship up to date.

The project currently supports 19 local authorities, including cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol and Cambridge to a third of London Boroughs.

Haringey in North East London is a shining example of how much impact this scheme can create. Over the last 3 years, over 800 large street trees have been funded through Haringey Council’s partnership with Trees for Streets. Many of the sponsors have also committed to watering the trees, saving between £300-400 per tree in contractor costs.

A local Haringey Tree Champion and her dog. Credit: Trees for Streets

Meanwhile, Trees for Streets features in London’s Urban Forest Plan; and the Mayor of London used the programme to manage funding for 1,000 trees in disadvantaged locations across nine boroughs.

Evidently, even just approaching the greening mission as ‘one tree at a time’ or gaining ‘one supporter at a time’ can still make quite the impact. For the residents who get involved as sponsors or ‘watering champions’, it’s evident that they are encouraged to feel ownership and pride in the greenery on their streets. From more visually pleasing public spaces to enhanced spaces for wildlife visitors, there really is a lot of positivity to be gained by communities, councils and charities collaborating together for the benefit of all.

If you work for a local authority and would like to find out more about taking local street tree planting to a new level, contact Trees for Streets at [email protected]. They offer an online briefing session on request.


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