Denbighshire Tree Nursery, on the edge of St Asaph in North Wales, was set up with the aim of producing 5,000 trees and 5,000 native wildflower plants a year – and ideally even more than that in the longer term.
One of the important things about the nursery is that all seeds and cuttings are taken from plants in Denbighshire, meaning that they are much more adapted to our climate and conditions than plants that come from other parts of the UK. Having locally grown trees will reduce the carbon involved in transporting saplings to Denbighshire.
By choosing local provenance, we are reducing the risk of introducing foreign diseases and pests to the area, while at the same time preserving local genetics and regional variations within plant species.
The project is improving future prospects for less common species in the region such as juniper, wild service, and black poplar trees, all of which have declined massively over the last century.
The plants and trees grown at the tree nursery are being used to help boost biodiversity within the county, through providing more wildflowers for our pollinators and more trees for our birds, insects, and other wildlife.
The project is one of the initiatives we have undertaken at the council following our declaration of a climate and ecological emergency in 2019. As a local authority, we made a commitment to improving biodiversity across the region.
Now, there are nearly 100 wildflower meadows project sites in the area, including highway verges, footpath edges, cycleways, and amenity grasslands. As well as these sites, there are 11 roadside nature reserves which equate to about 35 football pitches worth of grassland managed as native wildflower meadows.
As well as boosting biodiversity on council owned land, the trees and wildflowers will be made available to local groups and landowners, who are keen to encourage wildlife on their land too.
We used the opportunity of developing the site to include a Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS). This can be used as demonstration to developers and is already contributing to increased biodiversity on the site, for example with dragonflies using the ponds.
The project has been supported by the Welsh Government, through the Local Nature Partnerships Cymru ENRaW project and Local Places for Nature grant. We are currently developing a volunteer programme at the site, providing Denbighshire residents with the opportunity to take part in practical conservation work, and learn about the environment.
During the first events, volunteers have assisted with potting up plants and processing cuttings.
It was an advantage having a good relationship with our funders – a shared vision, if you like. We were very appreciative of having this support and it was invaluable throughout the project. Time spent developing that relationship is never wasted.
It wasn’t a typical ‘off the shelf’ project. When it comes to procurement, you may well find that those who supply exactly what you need are few and far between. Sourcing locally can be challenging so allow for that in your plans.
Be specific in your scope and stick to it. You may be tempted to diversify and upscale over and above the original brief. Be wary of this, because while people might come to you with great ideas and suggestions of how to enhance the project, it is essential to deliver the outcomes and benefits of the agreed project.
Try not to have dependencies that will impact your ability to deliver. If your project is linked to other projects, that’s fine, but make sure you can stand alone if those other projects don’t come to fruition, or not in the time period of your project.
In terms of timing, many activities are dictated by the season, like seed and cutting collection. You need to plan these in advance to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity that year.
There’s lots of different parts that don’t always marry up easily. It’s important that you consider this in your planning, particularly when talking to contractors. You’ve got to make sure everyone understands the bigger picture and not just the bit they are responsible for, so that everything can come together as you want, as well as being very clear what you are paying each contractor to deliver. For instance, the nursery is totally off grid, with our energy powered by solar panels and water supplied via a pump in a stream, which then supplies the irrigation system. These various components, all from different specialist suppliers, caused problems during the set up because it was the first time the suppliers had worked together on a project like ours.
Also, do your due diligence when buying in products and working with suppliers. Get an expert to oversee specialist areas, who can give you independent and impartial advice. This will save you money down the line.
As always, you must engage with stakeholders. For us in the local authority, it was all about talking to councillors and officers so that there was real buy in from the get-go.
Finally, contingency. Make sure you build this in, both in terms of time and budget. The likelihood is you’re going to need it, especially if it is a slightly out of the ordinary project.
We also complete wildlife surveys that capture information on the number and types of animals around the site, with the aim of recording positive changes over time.