As many people decorate their Christmas tree at home, the West Midlands Virtual Forest is heading towards 11,000 trees.
The latest addition came at Walsall Arboretum, where West Midlands Mayor Andy Street planted a cherry tree alongside volunteers from the Walsall Arboretum User Group. Today’s visit also marked the launch of a new and improved web platform for the virtual forest.
The forest is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) long-term commitment to the environment, #WM2041, which is the regional plan to be carbon neutral by 2041.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street planting a cherry tree in Walsall Arboretum
With the ambitious aim of planting one tree for every resident in the region, the Virtual Forest website will keep track of progress as well as offering residents advice on how to get involved with tree planting. So far, 10,796 trees have been registered across all corners of the region.
Tree-planting is a crucial way to take action on climate change as trees play a vital role in taking carbon out of the atmosphere, but they also bring recreational benefits too. The website has been developed in partnership with tree-planting groups including Birmingham Trees for Life, Birmingham Tree People, Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust, Treesisters, and the Woodland Trust, who are leading the regional campaign to plant more trees.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we must not lose sight of the climate emergency we are facing, and the WMCA remains committed to reaching its goal of carbon neutrality no later than 2041.
“From greener public transport to more energy efficient homes, we have lots of bold plans for cutting emissions – including planting a tree for every resident across the West Midlands.
“Not only does tree planting take us one step closer to our #WM2041 net zero goal, but it also helps to bring even more life and colour to our green spaces – which have become even more treasured and special throughout the pandemic. Anyone can visit the website and see for themselves how they can add a tree to our virtual forest.”
As well as ambitious tree-planting programmes, the #WM2041 campaign includes plans for a national park, building on the work of Birmingham City University. The plan also includes developing more eco-friendly homes, including introducing a zero-carbon standard for new-build residences.
Another project to help achieve the net carbon target is the WM Green Innovation Challenge which will support the work of innovative small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) across the region, particularly in finding solutions to some of the most pressing challenges. WMCA’s Environment Team is working with the 5GAccelerator and have identified a range of challenges relating to WM2041 that will be addressed by SMEs through a programme called 5PRING programme.
The Arboretum tree planting is part of Walsall Council’s Rethinking Parks programme which includes introducing species of trees not currently growing in the park. Councillor Oliver Butler, portfolio holder for clean and green said: “We are very lucky to have so many beautiful parks and open spaces across Walsall and during the pandemic, we’ve really seen how much people have valued them for fresh air and exercise. Trees are incredibly important to our environment and also our health. As well as being beautiful and havens for wildlife, they play a significant role in improving air quality.
Cllr Ian Courts, WMCA portfolio holder for environment and leader of Solihull Council, said: “Trees are the lungs of our planet so they are massively important for the environment as well as for our health and wellbeing. We know that woodland and open spaces have been a lifeline for people during the pandemic as places for relaxation and reflection. So I would encourage everyone to get involved in tree planting and help us highlight the importance of natural capital in supporting our goals around WM2041.
“It’s also really important that we find more land across the region where we can plant trees. We need help with that, whether you’re a private individual or a landowner. And once those trees are planted, we’re asking people to register them on the Virtual Forest. Over the next 10 years in Solihull we are aiming to contribute a total of 250,000 trees to the Virtual Forest through Planting Our Future and our £16.8 m project Wildlife Ways, just two of the environmental initiatives in the borough.”
Geoff Cole, chairman of local tree planting charity Birmingham Trees for Life said: “We are really excited about the launch of the Virtual Forest project which we have been involved with from the very beginning. More and more people are interested in their local parks, green spaces, trees and woodlands and want to be more involved.
“The Virtual Forest allows them to follow local tree planting, and even have their own tree planting recorded. Week on week it will build a picture of tree planting throughout the West Midlands, including Birmingham and allow everyone to see how we are doing in terms of “greening” our local areas As they say, ‘watch this space’”.
The virtual forest website, which has been developed in partnership with local authorities and tree planting groups, can be viewed at https://www.wmvirtualforest.co.uk/