Volunteer Stories: Elliot revisits trees he planted 10 years on

5 April 2024 3 minute read

Elliott son
Elliot and his son visit the trees Dad helped plant

Elliot Bushay, who volunteered with us back in 2013, recently revisited the same trees he helped plant in Ray Park, London. Here he shares his touching journey from planting to now appreciating the woodland that has flourished to become a habitat for local wildlife and so much more - plus the ideal spot to play hide and seek with his three-year-old son.

A warm welcome planting on a cold morning

I saw the announcement in a Trees for Cites newsletter and my partner was easily convinced to join me at the Ray Park community planting day.

When the day arrived, it was a particularly cold January morning. And as we entered Ray Park, I would have forgiven her for opting to wait for me with a hot chocolate in the park café. On the far side of the park, we could see a surprisingly large number of people scattered across a long narrow stretch of cultivated soil. As we drew closer, the chatter and laughter grew louder, and a friendly face welcomed us in. We were Londoners, but not local, so the warm but assured welcome meant the cold soon faded away.

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Tree planting at Ray Park with Trees for Cities in January 2013. Chi, Elliot's partner, is pictured on the right in pink gloves

Before long, following clear and simple instructions, tools, and saplings in hand, we were absorbed into this community of people. Some busy kneeling and planting saplings, others chatting, sharing a hot drink, children watering, mulching and generally having fun.

More festival than function, the time soon passed, and for those few hours we were part of a community of people improving lives and this neighbourhood by planting trees. The planning and complexity of making this moment possible was hidden by the seamless ease in which activities seemed to occur. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, 10am turned to 4pm and the day surprisingly ended. As we headed to the train station, a look back revealed what appeared to be an unusual collection of sticks standing upright in small mounds of bark chippings. This was our first mass tree planting experience; it’s getting cold again and we’re too tired to make sense of the picture.

The positive sense of community and memories of the day sparked the inspiration that meant that this would be the first of many tree planting experiences.

From saplings to a sanctuary for wildlife and play

It’s 2024. The two of us are now three, and our three-year-old son is easily convinced to join me for a walk in Ray Park. It will be the first time I’ve returned since volunteering to plant trees. Ten years have passed and when the day arrives it’s another cold winter morning as we enter Ray Park. On the far side of the park there are a large number of trees! Some surprisingly tall, some relatively small, and everything in between, all huddled together creating a dense mixed woodland.

Elliot's photos of the woodland in Ray Park after a decade of maturation. The newer woodland is in front of the more mature trees in the photo on the right.

I tune out the sound of background traffic and into the sound of redwings, goldfinch, song thrush, and other birds that have made a home here. Despite all this chatter and activity, there is a stillness and quietness about this place.

Supporting ecosystems and enhancing lives

Birch almost 10 metres tall provides an elegant backdrop to the hawthorn and vibrantly colourful dogwood, reflecting aspects of a pleasant and unique ecosystem as it emerges. One that was not here before and one that will continue to grow and mature to support even more wildlife and enhance the quality of life for local people.

This small but perfectly formed woodland is now a place of play and relaxation for this three-year-old and his generation for years to come. It will be a temporary home for migrating birds, foraging mammals, and pollinating insects. And as if this wasn’t enough, it will clean our air, cool our landscape, and absorb gases that warm our climate. All because a small group of people had a bright idea and set to work to make it into this wonderful reality.

Elliot’s story gives us goosebumps! We’re over the moon that he is able to enjoy the very trees he planted with us all of those years ago, and has shared his beautiful experience with us. As Trees for Cities celebrates 30 years of improving the lives of people in towns and cities, it's stories like Elliot's that really give meaning to what we do.

How can I plant trees?

If you’re interested in joining one of our planting days, sign up to our Tree Times newsletter to hear about upcoming volunteering opportunities.

Our next planting season will begin in Autumn 2024 - in the meantime find out more ways to get involved.

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