No forest? – plant it!

In spring 2002, Greenpeace Russia launched the Kids for Forest Project aimed at reforestation in central and southern regions of European Russia and engaging school children with nature by planting trees on their land.

Why plant?

Most of hardwoods along borders with steppes were destroyed by human activities. Indigenous deciduous forest was replaced by tilled agricultural lands and pastures. People have logged and clear cut without thinking about the consequences.

As the result – by the end of the 19th century the vast treeless territories suffered growing gullies, frequent droughts and hot winds sweeping away the most fertile soil. Thousands of smaller rivers and brooks have either become shallower or disappeared. At least 5-6 million hectares of converted forest lands are represented now by areas with eroded soils and other "wastelands" that are not in use anymore, most degraded lands can hardly be used for agricultural needs. Annually in European Russia gullies eat up 50 thousand hectares. The most crucial and effective step to preserve and restore fertility would be to create protective forest strips along fields, gullies and rivers as well as on degraded lands.

State or public?

In 1950-1970s USSR government made attempts to solve some of these problems with planting 2 millions hectares of "forest belts" (several rows of trees edging fields). This work was designed solely to promote economic profitability of agricultural endeavors but not to restore the deciduous forest ecosystems. Nevertheless, these counter-erosion forests have played a vital part in protecting lands against water and wind erosion, droughts and hot winds. However, the program has not been fully completed.

At present, a lot is being said about the necessity to increase agricultural effectiveness and to restore soil fertility. On paper federal and regional programs are being developed with the goal of increasing land fertility. Still, no funding is allocated to such efforts and nothing happens in reality.

At the same time, rural population of sparsely forested areas face the consequences of deforestation. Most people lose their jobs, the youth moves to large towns and cities. Whole villages "die out". Local families are well aware of the necessity of forest restoration and ready to participate in forest restoration activities even if they do not get any additional resources for this.

School kids undertake the task!

The idea to engage the public in forest restoration work first appeared at the end of the 19th century. By then, enough experience had been accumulated about how to establish tree nurseries to grow seedlings of almost all species native to our forests. In some cases, such nurseries were created within school territories.

The experience of forestry workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is still in use today. For a long time, rural schools have been islands of activity due to public initiatives. Most teachers eagerly respond to new ideas that can make the education process more interesting and motivate school children to undertake new, "adult" tasks. The idea of forest restoration easily interests children  many rural boys and girls, who see endless fields and sparse trees around them, dream about a real forest, so they are excited about the prospect of growing their own one.

In spring 2002, Greenpeace Russia proposed dozens of rural schools in the Ryazan region to start forest restoration activities. Most of them supported the idea. This is how the Kids for Forest project was born. Later, more schools from the Ryazan, Tula, Belgorod, Orel and Lipetsk regions joined the project ( See the map).

How we work

The main idea of the project is to create a tree nursery in each school where children can grow saplings. In this respect, rural schools have an advantage compared to urban ones. There is a small, local garden next to most rural schools where children grow vegetables for school canteens. So it's easy to allot some territory for a tree nursery there. For urban schools, it can be much more difficult to find a convenient spot for the garden and to take care of it, as the majority of urban kids leave cities for the summer holidays and there in no one left to take care about the forest nursery in summer.

Why is it so important to teach children to grow tree saplings themselves? The reason is that it is not so easy to find tree saplings in sparsely forested areas. Sometimes they can be taken from the forest without damaging the ecosystem, but in many regions, there is so little forest left that young trees can not be found anymore. Of course, there are state-owned tree nurseries, but they are rare in sparsely forested regions. Also, most state nurseries do not grow deciduous species because it takes significant time and effort. That's why it is easier to create a private, local tree nursery to grow various species from seeds and saplings.

Such nurseries offer a number of advantages compared to state ones. First, school children are usually not limited in their choice of species. Second, trees get more care, so they grow stronger and are more viable and more resistant to diseases. Third, saplings are always ready for planting, and the school can choose any convenient time to plant them in the wild. Finally, children can witness all stages of a tree's growth, and have the satisfaction of raising a tree from a seed they planted themselves.

Each school that joined the Kids for Forest Restoration project created a small school nursery under the guidance of Greenpeace Russia. Growing trees is fascinating, but difficult work, so we first give children and teachers species that are easy to grow  pine, larch, willow, oak, maple. If the first experience is positive and children like the work, they can try growing more "demanding" trees such as lime and ash.

Either in spring or autumn, we deliver new seeds to the schools so that young forestry specialists can continue their forest restoration activities. We also answer all questions, share our experience, tell about the experience of other schools, and bring tutorial materials.

What is a school tree nursery like? This can be a small plot of land, initially as small as 5x5 meters. A nursery consists of two parts – sown and school areas. In the sown part, seeds are grown into seedlings. Then, the seedlings are planted in the school area, where they have more space to grow further. It takes 3-4 years for coniferous species to grow into a sapling and 1-2 years for deciduous species.

We try to supply school children with those species that are native to a territory. In central Russia, these species are pine, oak, birch, alder, lime, maple, ash, poplar, willow, and elm. Exotic species can be grown as well, but they can not be planted in the wild because they might propagate and replace local endemic species.

However, it is insufficient to only learn how to plant saplings in a tree nursery. It is important to know how to plant them in the wild so that sapling can have the chance to grow into a mature tree. Every autumn, we organize one day tree-planting camps for the participating schools to train children to grow their own forest. We pay special attention to the choice of the place for planting. These are normally territories where trees are really necessary and where they won't be an obstacle for anybody. Such areas include shores of watercourses, edges of gullies, abandoned open pits, and other barren terrain. It is necessary that the chosen spot has no traces of pasture or grass cutting. The grass should not be too high; otherwise, it will oppress the growth of saplings in their first years and might cause their death in case of grass fires.

School students against fires

Members of the movement "Kids for Forest” not only restore forests but play active role in its conservation, i.e. protection from fires’ threats – they highly engaged in fire-prevention campaigns raising awareness among villagers and citizens in different regions.

Achievements

Existing 15 years since spring 2002 project unites 1015 schools which spread throughout the entire country, 272 school participants have their own tree nurseries. Nowadays movement “Kids for Forest” presented by 67 regions. One of the first forests, planted by kids from seeds on the site of the dull slope, is already full of young high trees – oaks, pines, maples, elms, larches and linden.

Since 2015 volunteer coordinator's team of project sequentially have been started to play a core role in sharing of best practices with local communities – new regional participants of the project. This independent work with schools already has fruitful outputs - planting forest events organized in several regions by this team – in Ryazan, Tula regions as well as Moscow and Saint – Petersburg – engaging even urban citizens in conservation activities.

Participants of project inspire each other during annual actions “Month of forests“, planting forests, making tree nurseries, collecting seeds, and sharing their experience in the Internet.

Last year planting forest event organized by Greenpeace near Moscow gathered together over 1000 active people.

We already see that plenty of people are concerned about forest restoration and ready to make its own contribution in forest conservation. Nevertheless we believe that in the future even more environmental conscious people will participate in the forest restoration essential for all species including human being.

Let's grow our forest together to make a difference!

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