A year on from the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, National Trust and partners have unveiled plans to plant blossom trees across England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a symbol of hope for the future.

The charity aspires to create a British equivalent of Japan's 'hanami', the popular custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers. Tree circles and individual blossom trees will be planted in towns and cities across the UK, creating serene outdoor spaces where urban dwellers can go to reflect and enjoy nature. The project will also contribute to National Trust plans to plant 20 million trees by 2030 in a bid to tackle climate change.

The annually blossoming tree circles will be funded in part by support from players of People's Postcode Lottery. National Trust will work with partners to ensure planting sites are accessible and meet the needs of local communities. Partners include Historic England, who has pledged to support the project as part of its High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme. The Trust also aims to offer Members of Parliament a blossoming tree for planting in their constituencies.

Peace And Reflection

Last summer, a report by Vivid Economics highlighted inequalities in access to green space across Britain. 295 deprived urban neighbourhoods were described as "grey deserts", with no trees or accessible green space.

Previous research by the National Trust found that everyday connection to nature is beneficial both for human health and wellbeing and for the natural environment itself. Those who feel connected to nature are also more likely to take action to protect and care for it.

Last year, many recognised the importance of access to nature during lockdown, finding time spent outdoors improved not just their physical health, but their mental wellbeing too. Thousands shared striking images of spring blossom to help lift people's spirits, with the charity's first ever #BlossomWatch campaign launching as England went into its first lockdown last March. The Trust now hopes to embed an annual marking of Spring blossom season, which brings all generations together to connect with nature and relax outdoors.

Local residents will be able to use the new blossom spaces as quiet places for reflection, peace and enjoyment. It is hoped the spaces can also be used for community events and social gatherings, such as workshops, festivals and exhibitions, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

Hilary McGrady, Director General at the National Trust, said, "Our vision is for nature, beauty and history for everyone. Our simple ambition with this project is to bring all of these elements together in the creation of green, nature-rich havens in the very heart of urban areas which are also beautiful and inspiring spaces that people can use.

"Our founder Octavia Hill recognised how everyone needs beautiful, open spaces, wherever they live."

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said, "I know from my time in Japan during the sakura season how beautiful cherry blossom can be. So I very much support this National Trust initiative to open up new green spaces across the country and bring more of this wonderful spectacle to the UK.

"It's a fantastic example of how heritage organisations help make our neighbourhoods more beautiful and improve our physical and mental wellbeing, and I look forward to seeing this project bloom in our communities."

Lasting Legacy

The site for the first blossom circle will be Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Newham, the same London borough as the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital. The circle will be a commemorative space to reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on the capital, and a place to honour key workers and remember those who have lost their lives.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said, "This new public garden will create a lasting, living memorial to commemorate all those who have lost their lives in the pandemic. It will be a tribute to the amazing ongoing work of our key workers and create a space for Londoners to contemplate and reflect on all this global pandemic has meant to our city and world. The blossoming trees will be a permanent reminder of this incredibly challenging time in all our lives and a symbol of how Londoners have stood together to help one another."

Blossom Programme Manager, Annie Reilly, said, "We will be working hard to ensure each space is designed to deliver something special in line with the individual needs of the local community. They might be large, or small, intimate spaces; they will only become more beautiful over time as the trees root themselves in their surroundings, and we hope, into people's daily lives."

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With player support, National Trust plans to plant blossom trees to create spaces of beauty and hope (© National Trust Images / James Dobson)