The dear green place

Ten trees for every resident will be planted in the next 10 years – that’s how the maths worked out. To comply with the Scottish government’s climate aspirations, the Glasgow City Region plans to increase tree cover to 20% by 2032.

That equals around 18 million trees in total and will mean creating an estimated 101 native woodlands, increasing vegetation on around 1,000 hectares each year.

The ‘Clyde Climate Forest’ as this conurbation of greenery will be known, is set to form a crucial part of the city’s plans to become ‘carbon net zero’ by 2030.

Okay, enough numbers.

Why plant trees?

“Canopy, carbon, connectivity,” recites Max Hislop, Director of the Clyde Climate Forest project.

For the urban areas especially, increased canopy cover has multiple benefits: “Trees are great in terms of providing shelter from storms and reducing flooding incidents. They’re great in terms of cooling down our streets when we have heat waves and provide cooling during heatwaves as well as offering resilience to cloud-bursts,” says Hislop. Thanks to the Clyde Climate Forest project there will also be a strong focus on planting trees in areas that don’t have many, and in urban neighbourhoods that face multiple deprivations.

Canopy, carbon, connectivity
— Max Hislop, Director of the Clyde Climate Forest project

Newly forested areas also act as effective carbon sinks. By the end of the decade, perhaps 9,000 hectares in the Glasgow City Region could be transformed in this way – including on currently vacant land.

Renaturing urban areas also (re)connects woodland networks, reversing habitat fragmentation and protecting biodiversity by re-establishing ecosystems and offering migratory routes and corridors – essential also for flora. This is why the project is focussed on providing new native woodland to link existing forest networks.

“The connectivity element is all about connecting up woodland habitats,” explains Hislop, “and we’ve got a great analysis for the whole region, which identifies not only what we have in terms of woodland habitats, but, more importantly where we need to be planting native woodlands in order to stitch them back together again and make the ecosystem services that we derive from our woodland habitats more resilient in the future.”

Currently the team of three permanent staff have identified around 200 potential locations.

Connecting people and nature

Up to 1.5 million trees will be planted with local communities in urban areas. Residents are being invited to identify opportunities for tree plantings in their area to help raise funds, and then to nurture the new shrubs. Such requests for local plantings come in addition to the areas identified by Hislop and his team, and will include diverse terrains, “whether that happens to be on the streets, school grounds, in their local park, or maybe planting a tree in their own garden,” explains Hislop.

“We’ve identified four communities in the Glasgow City Council area that we want to work with in the short term, but there will be others…we’re going to be working on the Clyde Climate Forest project for the next 10 years,” he adds.

We’ve identified 4 communities in the Glasgow City Council area that we want to work with in the short term
— Max Hislop, Director of the Clyde Climate Forest project

This includes neighbourhoods like Priest Hill, which recently benefitted from a first planting of some 200 shrubs, because it “has few trees across the area,” according to Hislop. This are is also more vulnerable to the immediate impact of climate change to which trees can offer some resilience.

As Graham McGrath, one of the Project Officers for the Clyde Climate Forest explains, “a lot of urban areas around Glasgow and in Scotland are going to benefit the most. Places like Dennistoun in the East End where, if you go for a walk around them there are just no street trees because everything is concreted over. So, for the quality of life improvements that are really important for what we’re doing as well, we’re really trying to focus on planting in areas with the lowest level of tree cover, and hopefully in areas that are actually quite difficult to plant trees in, because of land use change it has already been concreted over.”

Businesses and landowners

Another part of the project, explains Hislop, is coordinating efforts with private enterprises and landowners. For example, “businesses are asked to offer sponsorship, or perhaps organise a planting as part of a corporate tree planting activity.”

However, beyond this, given how much land is privately owned, it’s clear to Hislop and his team that the ambitions of the project will not be met without the active support of private landowners to plant trees on their own land.

That’s why, as Hislop explains, “we’re working with landowners in other parts of the region to think about woodlands on their farms or their land.”

We’re working with landowners in other parts of the region to think about woodlands on their farms or their land
— Max Hislop, Director of the Clyde Climate Forest project

And this is already a central feature of creating the planned 9,000 hectares of new woodland by 2032. Hislop recognises that there may well be differences in the approach taken in many of these wooded territories. While the areas planted by the assembled local and regional authorities of Glasgow will focus on promoting native species, woodlands planted with commercial interests in mind may simply focus on faster growing varieties such as Spruce or Douglas fir.

“OK, those might be less interesting from a biodiversity point of view,” admits Hislop, “but they are really important in terms of locking up carbon because they grow fast, they draw down the carbon quickly and that timber can be used to substitute high fossil fuel-reliant materials like concrete,” explains Hislop.

In addition, there’s another element that makes the forest interesting to corporate interests according to Hislop, and that’s carbon credits. For companies who are aiming to declare themselves carbon net zero, sponsorship may help ‘offset’ their existing carbon footprint.

'Canopy, carbon, connectivity' reads the slogan for the Clyde Climate Forest
There's toil, (and soil?) in a hard day's work
One tree at a time....all the way to 18 million!
Volunteers working out the next steps
With volunteers turning up, some of the first trees of the Clyde Climate Forest were planted in the Priest Hill area of Southwest Glasgow

National park city

The Clyde Climate Forest “is going to be absolutely crucial for our net zero and carbon reduction plans,” says Councillor Angus Millar, the Green Deal Lead for Glasgow City Council. However, it is not the only part of Glasgow’s net zero strategy. “As much as we can reduce our emissions all the way down, we know that there’s going to be residual emissions, and that’s why opportunities for carbon sequestration through nature-based projects like this are so important,” he adds.

And, that’s also why the climate forest is just one of a host of projects aiming to make the Glasgow City Region more resilient to climate change and to achieving its net zero target.

The Clyde Climate Forest “is going to be absolutely crucial for our net zero and carbon reduction plans
— Councillor Angus Millar

As the recent host of the COP26, Glasgow’s climate aspirations are far broader than the climate forest. “We want to inspire a shared vision of Glasgow as a greener, healthier and wilder city for everyone,” says Dominic Hall, Convener of the Glasgow National Park City Group.

Hall is part of a group of local activists who wants the Scottish city to become one of the 25 National Park Cities globally.

So far the group has been active in a number of ways, such as by collaborating on the creation of a new Urban Nature Map of Glasgow, and promoting other local initiatives such as a screening of environmental documentaries.

The city also recently launched its greenprint for investment, which alongside the Clyde Climate Forest, counts on several other actions such as the Clyde metro – which has additionally been included in the Scottish government’s own plans for future transport. The hope is that projects like these will unlock substantial private investment to help Glasgow meet its climate financing needs, while stimulating economic activity by creating new jobs and business opportunities.

A greener, more rural vision of urban living like this can lead to multiple new opportunities, and boost liveability for local residents. And with targets set for within the next decade, this vision is tantalisingly within reach.

Glasgow is part of the Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal, which strives to show that a sustainable transition is possible, with mayors and cities on board.

Interested in these topics? Catch up on developments at the Eurocities Environment Forum where discussion focussed on how to change our behaviour for the good of the planet.

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer