Wee Forests: Part of the TinyForest Global Family
What is a Wee Forest?
A Wee Forest is a tennis court-sized, densely planted and fast growing, native species rich woodland in urban Scotland which combines the specific Miywaki planting method with long term school and community engagement through citizen science and volunteering.
Wee Forests - Part of the Tiny Forest Global Family
Wee Forests are part of the global family of ‘Tiny Forests’ promoted in the UK by Earthwatch and in Europe by Dutch charity IVN. The location of UK Wee/Tiny Forests can be seen on Earthwatch's interactive map. Click on the Wee Forest icon to find out more about a Wee Forest near you and the data that is being collected.
NatureScot Wee Forest Demonstration Project
In 2021/22, with funding from the Scottish Government and in partnership with Earthwatch, NatureScot provided Wee Forest accreditation training to nine Local Delivery Partners. These organisations are now qualified to deliver Wee Forests to a consistent international standard:
- Aberdeen City Council Environment Team
- Borders Forest Trust
- Dundee University Botanic Garden
- East Ayrshire Woodlands
- Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust
- Fife Coast and Countryside Trust
- Green Action Trust
- Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust
- The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)
NatureScot worked with six of the Local Delivery Partners to create a network of 20 Wee Forests across urban Scotland.
For at least ten years, the Local Delivery Partners will support a volunteer Tree Keeper Team for each Wee Forest which will look after the Wee Forest and help local schools and communities collect data about how the Wee Forest is growing and the benefits it is providing. This will include measuring the carbon captured, the wildlife the forest is supporting, and changes to how much rainwater the soil can capture and retain. Volunteer Tree Keepers will also monitor how people are using and enjoying the Wee Forests.
In addition to the 20 Demonstration Project Wee Forests funded by Scottish Government, in 2021/22, our partners Earthwatch planted seven Wee Forests in Glasgow and Edinburgh sponsored by a range of businesses.
Wee Forest Key Facts - 2022
- 27 Wee Forests established in Scotland
- Wee Forests are in 10 local authority areas – Aberdeen, Dundee, Fife, Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, Glasgow, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire
- 50+ schools and 1,000 volunteers involved
- > 16,000 native trees planted for nature and climate.
Some Wee Forest Stories
Schools and local people were the Wee Foresters planting the Wee Forests and some made short films about their experience:
- Levenmouth Academy's story of Muiredge Park Wee Forest in Fife
- Woodside Primary School's story of Woodside Wee Forest in Aberdeen
- STV's report about Queen Margaret University Wee Forest in East Lothian
Wee Forest Frequently Asked Questions
Who is involved in Wee Forests?
NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at nature.scot or follow us on Twitter.
’S e NatureScot buidheann nàdair na h-Alba. Bidh sinn a’ neartachadh àrainneachd na h-Alba agus a’ brosnachadh dhaoine gu barrachd suim a chur ann an nàdar. Tha e mar phrìomhachas againn gum bi nàdar na h-Alba beairteach agus gun dèilig sinn gu h-èifeachdach le èiginn na gnàth-shìde. Tha an tuilleadh fiosrachaidh aig www.nature.scot no air Twitter
NatureScot is working with Earthwatch Europe and Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners to deliver the Scottish Wee Forests Programme, part of the Tiny Forest family.
Earthwatch Europe is an environmental charity with science at its heart. We drive the change needed to live within our means and in balance with nature. We do this by connecting people with the natural world, monitoring the health of our natural resources and informing the actions that will have the greatest positive impact.
Earthwatch is pioneering Tiny Forest in the UK and have so far planted or facilitated over 150. The current map shows the locations of Wee Forests and Tiny Forests throughout the UK.
Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners
As part of the NatureScot-funded Wee Forest Demonstration Project, people from nine Scottish organisations have been trained in the Wee Forest method and are now accredited Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners. They are accredited to work with communities to follow the Wee Forest method to a consistent international standard.
The Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners are:
- Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust – tel: 0131 445 4025, email: [email protected]
- Green Action Trust – tel: 01501 822015, email: [email protected]
- The Conservation Volunteers in Scotland – tel: 01302 388883, email: [email protected]
- University of Dundee Botanic Garden – tel: 01382 381190, email: [email protected]
- Aberdeen City Council - Environment Team and Countryside Rangers
- East Ayrshire Woodlands – email: [email protected]
- Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust – on-line email
- Fife Coast and Countryside Trust – tel: 01592 656080, email: [email protected]
- Borders Forest Trust – tel: 01835 830750, email: [email protected]
Wee Forest Advisory Group
Helping to advise on the development and implementation of the Scottish Wee Forest Programme, the Wee Forest Advisory Group meets quarterly. It is chaired by NatureScot and is made up of Naturescot. Scottish Forestry, Scottish Government, Education Scotland, COSLA and Earthwatch.
What is a Wee Forest?
A Wee Forest is a small, dense and fast-growing native woodland, typically the size of a tennis court. They are ideal for urban spaces, creating an oasis for plants, insects, birds and small mammals, and supporting the wellbeing of people too. Wee Forest is the name for Tiny Forest in Scotland and are part of the global Tiny Forest family.
Wee Forests are inspiring spaces for outdoor learning and a social point for local people who plant and maintain them. Wee Forests are scientifically monitored by community volunteers and schools to better understand the benefits of nature in our urban areas.
Wee Forests are prepared and planted using a very specific method based on an established technique developed by a Japanese botanist, Dr Akira Miyawaki, in the 1970s. The Miyawaki method encourages accelerated forest development in an urban setting.
Why do we need Wee Forests?
As a result of the twin crises of nature loss and climate change, issues such as flooding, heat stress and loss of biodiversity are increasingly affecting urban areas. In tandem with this, particularly in towns and cities, people are losing their connection to nature. Creating liveable and climate-resilient places that support good health and wellbeing is a considerable challenge in a changing climate.
Wee Forests can play a part in facing this challenge. They bring the benefits of a forest – reconnecting people with nature and raising awareness, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as providing nature-rich habitat patches to support urban wildlife – right into the heart of our towns and cities which is where 84% of Scotland’s population lives.
What are the key elements of a Wee Forest?
What makes a Wee Forest special is that it has:
- 600 native trees and shrubs planted densely in a tennis-court sized plot, maximising benefits per m2 of land
- Miyawaki planting method which encourages accelerated forest development and uses no chemicals or fertilisers
- Low management and maintenance requirements after the first two years
- Rich biodiversity, capable of attracting over 500 animal and plant species within the first three years (see research from the Netherlands)
- A nature-rich accessible green space and outdoor classroom for people to reconnect with nature
- Monitoring data gathered by citizen scientists in the long-term to help understand how Wee Forests develop and to quantify the climate benefits.
How many Wee Forests are there?
A map, and profiles of all the Wee Forests and Tiny Forests planted to date, can be found on the Tiny Forest Online Portal.
What are the benefits of a Wee Forest?
Trees are known to have a huge range of environmental benefits but the specific impact that Wee Forests can have in urban areas needs further research.
Earthwatch Europe and partners are collecting data to support research into four environmental topics:
- Carbon capture – at what rate do Wee Forests take up atmospheric CO2 and store it in their tree tissues?
- Flood alleviation – how does creating a Wee Forest affect how the landscape can retain and absorb water?
- Thermal comfort – do Wee Forests create a microclimate and do people feel more comfortable in and around Wee Forests?
- Biodiversity – what impact does a Wee Forest have on the number and variety of invertebrates in the area?
These questions are studied through collecting citizen science data on Wee Forests as they grow. Findings of this research will be shared through Earthwatch and NatureScot websites as it becomes available.
A Wee Forest can provide a valuable outdoor learning resource for urban local schools. Wee Forests can be planted within school grounds and the rest are within easy walking distance for the school cluster. The ambition is to have a Wee Forest for every urban school cluster in the next 10 years.
Wee Forests provide a real-world environment in which many parts of the curriculum can be brought to life. Particularly in the early stages of forest establishment, it provides a graphic illustration of biological principles and how these can develop rapidly over just a few years in a pupil’s school life. In addition, a Wee Forest can be a platform for outdoor learning for numeracy, literacy and STEM subjects, as well communications, project management, scientific data collection and so on.
Teachers, other educators and volunteer leaders can access to a range of educational resources to help make the most of their local Wee Forest. NatureScot can provide information about how to link Wee Forests to the Curriculum for Excellence and Learning for Sustainability – contact [email protected] .
Wee Forests can connect people with nature in their local area and support general wellbeing. They offer a place to relax, watch wildlife and are an educational resource.
Each forest is expected to engage:
- Up to 100 volunteers on Planting and Science Days
- 4-6 volunteer Tree Keepers who help care for their forest
- The wider community, visitors and school children as an inspiring place to enjoy nature.
Through planting and science days, social surveys are being conducted to assess the social impact of Wee Forests. Findings of this research will be shared through Earthwatch and NatureScot websites as it becomes available.
Health and Wellbeing
Connection with nature and access to high quality diverse green space have well documented benefits to health and wellbeing. Getting involved in creating and looking after a Wee Forest instils a sense of ownership and stewardship. The forest provides a place where people can connect with nature and with each other.
Green Skills and Training
Creating, maintaining and monitoring Wee Forests provides opportunities for training and skills development, either informally through accessing the Tiny Forest Tree Keeper programme, or through using the Wee Forest within a formal programme such as Modern Apprenticeships in Trees and Timber. NatureScot and Earthwatch are building links with research institutions and training organisations to maximise their potential to support learning and development.
Some areas where participating in a Wee Forest can help develop skills include:
- Project planning and development, helping to get a Wee Forest started
- Practical skills, tree planting and organising a planting event
- Community engagement and capacity building, recruiting and supporting a local network of volunteers to help look after the Wee Forest
- Citizen Science and research skills, through participating in ongoing monitoring.
How can I get involved in a Wee Forest?
As a public or private landowner
If you or your organisation/authority owns land which might be suitable for a Wee Forest, then NatureScot, a Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner or Earthwatch would love to hear from you. Not every site will be suitable – as well as needing 200m2 to plant the Wee Forest, the site also needs to be accessible, free from over-or-underground utilities and services, not within any ecologically sensitive areas, and the landowner must be able to commit to retaining woodland on the site, with some public access, for a minimum of 10 years.
If you manage a public park or greenspace, a Wee Forest is an opportunity to diversify your park’s estate, helping to achieve climate and biodiversity goals without increasing maintenance costs.
As a community member
Visit Earthwatch’s Tiny Forest Portal to find out if there are any Wee Forests near you. This will also have information on any upcoming events at that Wee Forest, such as Science Days, where you can meet other enthusiasts and help monitor wildlife.
You can sign up to become a Tree Keeper by contacting [email protected] who will link you with the Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner for a Wee Forest near you or [email protected]. Tree Keepers get free training from Earthwatch to help look after their Wee Forest, carry out scientific monitoring, and promote and celebrate their Wee Forest within their community.
If there isn’t a Wee Forest near you, then consider approaching a Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner to see if there is scope for creating a Wee Forest in your community.
As an educator
Wee Forests offer fantastic opportunities for outdoor play and learning, whether through formal or informal education. As part of the Wee Forest programme, Earthwatch has developed teacher resources for the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Earthwatch also offers free webinars for educators, supporting them to make the most of their Wee Forests.
Visit the Tiny Forest Education Page to find out more.
As a business
Businesses can get involved with Wee Forests in many ways. Landowners may be able to host a Wee Forest on site. Wee Forests offer great opportunities for business sponsorship, to give something back to the communities where you operate. Business employees can also become Tree Keepers for their local Wee Forest, providing opportunities for corporate social responsibility, and building staff cohesion.
For enquiries about business involvement, contact [email protected]
As a potential Local Delivery Partner
If you are a community focused environmental organisation working in Scotland, and you think that there is an opportunity to help deliver Wee Forests in your area, please contact [email protected] for further information.
If you have an enquiry about Wee Forests contact [email protected].
What's involved in creating a Wee Forest?
Wee Forest creation differs from traditional forestry techniques, typically involving much more preliminary investigation and ground preparation than conventional approaches to tree planting; and planting all the forest layers at the same time at higher densities. Miyawaki identified this approach to promote rapid growth; and to establish a mature, more diverse forest tree population much more quickly than conventional planting methods. There is a bigger impact in a shorter timescale.
An accredited Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner can help with this process, or if there isn’t one available you can contact Earthwatch directly.
Before deciding if a site is suitable for a Wee Forest, look at its size, the presence of services or utilities infrastructure, previous uses of the site and if it is within any sensitive or protected areas. Investigate the soil to assess its suitability for different tree species.
You will also need written permission from the landowner and an agreement to keep the site as a Wee Forest for a minimum ten year period. Take advice about what should be in the agreement.
Selecting tree species
Once the soil conditions are understood, identify a local “Reference Forest”. This is typically a semi-natural ancient woodland in the general vicinity of the Wee Forest site. Cross-reference the soil information and the reference forest to devise a species list that is suited to the conditions and reflects historic local native species.
A Wee Forest will usually include around 16 or more different native species that would typically occur in the different layers of a semi-natural woodland. These are the canopy layer, sub-canopy layer, understorey and shrub layer. By using species from all forest layers, and planting them in a pattern which avoids multiple individuals from the same species being planted next to each other, a good vertical structure is ensured within the Wee Forest, avoiding trees competing with each other for light and nutrients.
100 of the 600 trees are tagged and will be the focus for carbon capture monitoring.
Designing the Wee Forest
Although the “tennis court” example is used to help people visualise the size of the Wee Forest, this does not mean that it has to be a single rectangular block of trees. Wee Forests can be designed to fit nearly any space, as long as they have the required 200m² of planted area and are over 4m in width for most of their size. Wee Forests can include footpaths, open areas, seating, outdoor classrooms and artworks, depending on the space in which they are located and the objectives agreed with the local community.
Preparing the soil
The Wee Forest site is prepared for planting by excavating up to 1 metre in depth of the existing soil. This reduces soil compaction to allow young roots to spread and establish rapidly. The existing soil is mixed with natural supplements (typically chopped straw, compost or green manure) to improve soil texture and nutrient levels before being returned in place. This gives the optimum conditions for young saplings to grow and thrive.
Planting a Wee Forest
Planted ideally between November and March, usually all 600 trees are planted in a single day with as much involvement of local people in the process as possible. Local residents, schools, community organisations and conservation groups can all take part in the Planting Day. This can help to provide a sense of ownership of the Wee Forest and help to recruit Tree Keepers to look after the Wee Forest in the longer term.
The saplings are planted as “whips”. These are small trees typically up to 80cm in height, planted either bare-rooted or with small “cells” of soil around their roots. This is an ideal stage for planting trees as it allows them to establish a strong root system before their canopy grows to the point where they are exposed to wind or water stresses.
Finishing the Wee Forest
With the saplings planted, the Wee Forest is finished with:
- Biodiversity tiles - six paving slabs distributed within the Wee Forest which are used as part of the biodiversity monitoring. These are located flat against the soil surface and embedded within the mulch layer.
- A layer of mulch across the whole planted area - this helps to retain moisture within the soil and suppresses weed growth. A partially composted wood chip mulch is usually specified but other options are available. Straw is not recommended in Scotland as unfortunately there have been cases of arson with this more flammable material. It is also more likely to blow away.
- A fence around the Wee Forest - this is often intended as a temporary feature to guard the saplings against accidental trampling or damage during their first 2-3 years of establishment. Chestnut paling or stock fencing is normal but in some cases there may be a need to use rabbit or deer-proof fencing to avoid grazing of the young trees.
- A gate – to enable access to the fenced area.
- Seating or outdoor classroom area - this is often surfaced in amenity bark chip to reduce maintenance but can be left to grass. If benches are included, they would normally be of a “forest school” specification, designed to promote use as an outdoor education space. It is important to design a seating or classroom space with clear sightlines for comfortable use by people and to avoid anti-social behaviour, as the middle of the Wee Forest will get very dense as it grows.
- An interpretation panel - this provides visitors with basic information about the Wee Forest, who was involved in creating it, links for further information, how to get involved as a Tree Keeper and how to report any damage.
Some common questions around Wee Forest design
What about accessibility in my Wee Forest?
It’s important that the design of a Wee Forest does not unintentionally prevent some people from enjoying it. Consider the location of the Wee Forest, who might want to use it, and how they will access it. In some cases, especially where older people or those with limited mobility are likely to use the Wee Forest, you may consider installing a more uniform surface for the trodden areas of the forest, or provide seating with arm and back rests. Large areas of hard standing will not usually be in character with a forest as a semi-natural woodland.
Tree and shrub species with prickles and thorns (e.g. blackthorn, gorse, hawthorn) are a valuable component of semi-natural native woodlands and should therefore usually be included as part of the Wee Forest planting plan. However, the location of those particular species should be considered carefully in relation to likely access routes and desire lines through and around the forest as it matures.
What about potential for anti-social behaviour in my Wee Forest?
If you are developing a Wee Forest in a place where you anticipate anti-social behaviour being an issue, it is recommended to consult with your local community safety team or police service as part of the project process.
The careful design and siting of a Wee Forest helps to avoid or mitigate the impact of these behaviours. Are you providing benches in an area where there is no existing seating and would this encourage people to gather there? Are any open areas well overlooked by local houses or a busy road? Can a visitor to the Wee Forest see into the space, and if there is a footpath within the forest, can a visitor see clearly through to the exit? Wee Forests go through a phase of being a dense thicket with poor sightlines so may not be the most appropriate type of tree planting method for some urban areas. As the Wee Forest matures, the sightlines become clearer.
Can a Wee Forest be in a school ground?
Yes – some of NatureScot’s pilot Wee Forests are in school grounds and are a fantastic educational resource for the school. Although this sometimes means that the wider public can’t access the Wee Forest easily, this can be mitigated by involving the wider school community, e.g. parents, staff, carers and grandparents. Some schools have recruited members of the school community as Tree Keepers and have set up activity days where parents as well as staff and pupils can participate in the care and monitoring of their Wee Forest.
What about spiky/thorny species?
Some thorny or prickly tree species might be perceived to pose a small injury risk. However these species are a vital part of the ecological function of the Wee Forest providing shelter and food for small mammals and birds, and should be included in the species mix. If injury is a concern, a mitigation is to plant prickly species away from any seating or pathways.
The site I am looking at is brownfield. Is this a problem?
Brownfield land has a history of development, often associated with industrial uses. If this is the case, a thorough site investigation is recommended prior to developing a Wee Forest, to understand what hazards and liabilities are present. The landowner will always retain liability for any contamination or site-based hazards and if specific issues are raised through site investigation, it is advised that they be referenced specifically in any land agreement.
If there is a problem with large quantities of rubble or other solid material, this can be mitigated through importing clean topsoil to the site but this will cost more and has a higher carbon impact.
The site has invasive or non-native species (INNS) on or near it. Is this a problem?
In Scotland, it is an offence to plant, or otherwise cause to grow, a plant in the wild at a location outside its native range. The Code of Practice on Non-Native Species explains the relevant Scottish legislation and sets out a framework of responsibilities for bodies with powers relating to non-native species. If there are Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) in or near the Wee Forest site and your activities could risk causing that species to spread, then do not proceed. A Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner can provide advice on any INNS which may be present and can advise on appropriate control measures.
Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is particularly problematic around Wee Forest locations, as this plant propagates through its root system. The soil preparation process involved in creating a Wee Forest has the potential to disturb these roots and unwittingly propagate the plant. Extreme caution should be taken in planning any Wee Forest on a site with a history of Japanese Knotweed.
Local residents are concerned the Wee Forest will overshadow their houses – what should I do?
Location of a Wee Forest is a key consideration. While the trees within a Wee Forest will not grow to the size that they would if they were individual specimens, the canopy layer will still achieve a significant height, and if poorly located this could cause problems for neighbours. It is always advisable to leave a clearance of at least 15m between a Wee Forest boundary and any adjacent properties and if planning a Wee Forest near houses, consultation with those residents most immediately impacted by the proposals is essential.
Do I need to involve a Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner or can my community group just have a go ourselves?
NatureScot and Earthwatch have trained a Scotland-wide network of Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners, and these organisations are available as a support resource for Wee Forests. Local Delivery Partners have direct experience of delivering Wee Forests including experience of all the technical processes that are involved and use of the Earthwatch data platform for uploading long-term citizen science data to monitor the Wee Forest.
It is strongly advised to connect with a Local Delivery Partner if thinking about a Wee Forest. Once a plan is in place which delivers the essential criteria to make it a Wee Forest (and not just tree planting), then local groups and organisations are welcome to use their own resources to deliver this. In such situations, the group should also contact Earthwatch about accessing the data platform and there will be a cost for this.
Is there examples of templates that I can use, eg: landowner agreement?
As a minimum, an agreement needs to set out the rights and responsibilities (and liabilities) between parties, for how long, and if there is payment involved. Agreements can be simple or complex but to make sure that you understand what you are committing to or want the landowner to do, please seek advice from your Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner.
Do I need to insure a Wee Forest?
Any publicly accessible site needs to be covered by some insurance to protect the owner against potential consequences. This is the responsibility of the land owner. As part of the development of any Wee Forest, it is recommended that the landowner check their insurance cover, and if necessary consult with their insurers to assess any impact that the creation of a Wee Forest will have on their level of cover. Compliance with Health and Safety Executive requirements is essential, eg: Safety of trees on school premises or playing fields (Jan, 2022).
What happens if my Wee Forest gets damaged?
Wee Forests will occasionally suffer from accidental damage or vandalism. Good planning, consultation and community engagement can reduce the likelihood of this happening but it does sometimes happen. If this does occur, it is recommended that the damage be rectified as soon as possible. A site that looks neglected or in disrepair will often attract further unwanted behaviour resulting in a downward spiral. Ideally this will involve repair or replacement of a damaged feature or trees, but if a budget is not available, it is often better to remove a feature than to leave a damaged asset in place. Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners will be able to advise on specific cases.
Do all the trees and shrubs have to be native to Scotland?
Yes - all tree species in a Wee Forest should be Scottish native species and relevant to the local area. For a list of appropriate Scottish lowland tree and shrub species please contact NatureScot at [email protected].
Wee Forest costs and funding sources
How much does a Wee Forest cost?
Because of the high preparation costs of the specific Myawaki planting method and the amount of staff time needed to ensure community and school engagement for citizen science in the long term, a Wee Forest delivered by a Local Delivery Partner will cost £25K to £30K (winter 2022/23).
Costs might be reduced through seeking in-kind contributions of materials or partnering with organisations that can provide elements of a Wee Forest, eg: Trees and Timber Modern Apprenticeship training providers. It is advised that groups do not underestimate the costs involved in creating Wee Forests using the Miyawaki method and bearing in mind the long term maintenance and citizen science commitment to them. A Wee Forest that is created then neglected can become a blight in a neighbourhood.
Where can I get funding to support this work?
Successful projects will usually involve a number of different partners coming together to support the overall cost of creating the Wee Forest and engaging the community in outdoor learning and citizen science activities over the long term.
Grant and other funding sources change regularly, so speak to a Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner and Earthwatch about current options in Scotland. General sources of potential funding include:
- Businesses - Earthwatch has been successful in securing significant sums of corporate sponsorship to support Tiny Forest delivery across the UK. Major businesses which operate in the area where a Wee Forest is planned may be prepared to support the work as part of their own sustainability or corporate social responsibility strategies. Businesses can be valuable local partners, supporting planting and aftercare of a Wee Forest through engaging their employees and for in-kind contributions.
- Housing providers - Organisations which build or manage housing can support the creation of Wee Forests, as they enhance the housing area or with in-kind contributions of materials. Whether through helping to address the environmental impact of a new housing development, or through improving satisfaction in an area of existing social housing, these organisations can often be valuable partners in a Wee Forest project.
- Local grants and funds - Many smaller charitable trusts and grant giving bodies invest in specific areas and this provides an opportunity for a local group or a Wee Forest Local Delivery Partner to access funding.
- Local public sector - Public sector budgets are under pressure but some give grants for, or will invest in, Wee Forests as they help local biodiversity, climate or social priorities.
What's involved in looking after a Wee Forest?
Managing the trees
Wee Forests are designed to minimise long-term maintenance requirements. By mulching the planted areas and with the saplings rapidly establishing, management of the trees themselves will be confined to weeding during the first 2-3 growing seasons and the very occasional watering in times of extreme heat stress. The Wee Forest is not thinned to allow the densely planted trees to grow rapidly for maximum environmental impact. The message is – leave it alone to grow and thrive!
General ongoing maintenance of the Wee Forest is needed including litter picking and keeping the fence and path edges tidy and free of obstruction. This should be agreed with the landowner during the development of the project with the Wee Forest being included in the wider management plans for the site.
Volunteer involvement can help deliver this routine maintenance, with Tree Keepers leading activity days where litter picking and general tidying can take place.
To provide volunteering and personal development opportunities and to reduce management costs, the Local Delivery Partner will recruit a core team of 4-5 local volunteers to be Tree Keepers. They will be ambassadors for the Wee Forest and take ownership of their forest and its development. Tree Keepers are encouraged to take responsibility for maintaining the forest for its first few growing seasons. These actions include weeding, litter picking, and checking the saplings and mulch layer. This could take about 1 hour per week but will vary from season to season. Earthwatch provides a full induction and training programme for Tree Keepers plus some basic Tree Keeper kits to help them with their volunteering roles. They also have a platform for Tree Keepers to share experience and keep them connected as part of a wider network.
Sustaining Community Engagement
Tree Keepers can support ongoing community involvement. Earthwatch provides a regular annual programme for Tree Keepers, including events and activities, seasonal citizen science monitoring activities and national “calls to action” such as Earthwatch’s Biodiversity Week in which Wee and Tiny Forests across the UK come together to take collective action across the Wee Forest community.
Tree Keepers are provided with training in reaching out to their local communities, establishing a local social media presence and engaging with service providers in the area, to provide a strong and inclusive local network.
Schools are an essential part of Wee Forests, enabling local young people to grow up with their Wee Forest. Earthwatch has developed resources for schools including links with the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Earthwatch’s education team offer regular webinars to educators on the education potential of Wee Forests which are open to all Wee Forest participants connected with schools.
Tell me more about the Citizen Science
All Wee Forest citizen science techniques have been designed by Earthwatch’s experienced citizen science practitioners and are accessible to a range of audiences and abilities. The equipment needed varies between the different monitoring processes with some being simple and some requiring more complex equipment. The accredited Wee Forest Local Delivery Partners should have all the relevant equipment and be familiar with the citizen science techniques and data being collected.
The Tiny Forest Portal enables participants to record data directly to Earthwatch’s database using a mobile phone or tablet with internet connection. The data being collected is:
- Biodiversity - Possibly the most accessible monitoring process, this involves timed surveys of butterflies and other pollinating insects within and around the Wee Forest; and surveys of ground-dwelling invertebrates under the biodiversity tiles. Downloadable field guides support identification of species along with a watch or mobile phone to time the survey. Suitable for individual or group activity, these surveys can be carried out at any time during the growing season while insects are active.
- Carbon Capture - This is measured using a tape measure and a set of callipers to record the growth rate of 100 trees within the Wee Forest which were tagged when planted. An ideal group task, this will typically involve surveying all 100 trees at the end of the growing season, usually around September.
- Flood Management - This is measured using a penetrometer to calculate the compaction of the soil surface at points within and outside the Wee Forest and apparatus which calculates the rate at which water is absorbed into the soil.
- Thermal Comfort - The most advanced monitoring technique, this involves using an electronic weather station to measure temperature and other environmental conditions at points within and outside the Wee Forest. It also includes a human element where people can record their perceptions of the climate in and around the Wee Forest to compare to the direct measurements.
Because of some of the more complex equipment requirements, some of these surveys will normally be delivered as part of a designated Science Day, supported by Earthwatch or a Local Delivery Partner. Earthwatch are seeking to develop a supply of this testing equipment for use by local Tree Keepers.
Science Days and Biodiversity Week
Science Days are dedicated events held at specific Wee Forests where staff from Earthwatch or a Local Delivery Partner join local Tree Keepers and other community members and demonstrate all the monitoring techniques. These are advertised in advance and are an excellent opportunity for ongoing community engagement with the Wee Forest, as well as collecting vital data.
Biodiversity Week is a national Earthwatch campaign which calls on Wee and Tiny Forests to participate in the biodiversity surveys within the same time period to build up a national picture of what is happening in our Wee Forests and how this is changing over time.