A charity’s tree nursery is releasing its first trees — the culmination of two year’s dedicated work by its staff and volunteers. 

Five-thousand native species trees have been grown at a specially developed tree nursery at Devon Wildlife Trust’s Meeth Quarry nature reserve, near Hatherleigh. 

The young trees will now be planted across Devon filling gaps left by the devastating impact of the tree disease known as ash dieback. Planting sites will include schools, local communities and private landowners.

The tree nursery is part of Saving Devon’s Treescapes, a project led by Devon Wildlife Trust on behalf of the Ash Dieback Resilience Forum. The project was established in 2021 in response to the unfolding crisis of Devon’s ash trees. Its work is support by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, One Tree Planted and other funders.

Ash dieback disease first arrived in the UK in 2012. It is caused by a fungus whose spores are spread by the wind. The disease is now widespread in Devon and it’s estimated that it will eventually kill 90 per cent of the county’s 1.9-million ash trees. Many young and mature ash have already been lost leaving hedges, gardens, parks and roadsides without these majestic trees.

The nursery’s young trees are to be at the forefront of the fightback against ash dieback disease, filling the gaps left in Devon’s landscapes.

The new trees include oaks, spindle, hazel, hawthorn, Devon whitebeam, rowan, crab apple and field maple. All were grown using seeds collected locally from land owned by Devon Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Woodland Trust and private holdings. 

Rosie Cotgreave is Saving Devon’s Treescapes project manager. Rosie Cotgreave said: “It’s with a lot of pride that we see the first trees from our tree nursery planted in the wider countryside. Ash dieback has seen us lose thousands of trees which are both vital for wildlife and important to local people. The production of 5,000 news trees is a significant moment in our attempts to rebuild Devon’s treescapes. It’s a positive sign of nature’s comeback.”

Throughout their lives the young trees have been cared for by a team of local volunteers. Rosie Cotgreave said: “We couldn’t have operated the tree nursery without the help of our wonderful volunteers. Together they’ve been involved in sorting seeds, potting them up, pricking out seedlings and watering them. They’ve faced many challenges, from freezing conditions in winter to long weeks of little or no rain in summer. Their dedication has meant that we’ve lost hardly any of the trees along the way.”

Sue Taylor is one of the tree nursery’s volunteer team. Sue said: “I’m new to the area and volunteering at the tree nursery has been great for meeting people, feeling involved, and contributing to an important conservation project, one precious seed at a time!

“I wanted to do something practical to help make a difference, especially around tree planting and climate change and, being hands-on, volunteering here really fulfils that purpose, and there’s a clear sense of achievement after every session. The tree nursery is a very welcoming environment and superbly organised – a really upbeat and positive experience!”

The success of the tree nursery at Meeth Quarry nature reserve, plus growing demand for its free tree service, has led the Saving Devon’s Treescapes project to establish another tree nursery earlier this year. This second centre is based at Heathfield Farm, Broadclyst in East Devon. It’s hoped that its first trees will be ready for planting out in the Devon countryside in late 2024.