The Tree Musketeers: the local volunteers keeping Hackney green

Volunteers working in groups to plant trees Pic: Tree Musketeers

“It looks as if it’s been here forever. I mean, all of the trees are less than 20 years old, but they do look as though they’ve been here forever,” says Christine Kings, the chair of Tree Musketeers, about their community tree nursery.  

Formed 20 years ago, the Tree Musketeers are a group of volunteers that plant and care for trees in Hackney.

The group mainly operates from the Hackney Community Tree Nursery, which was set up by a group of Hackney residents who approached the council and requested for a green space to grow trees and plant them in the borough’s parks and open spaces. 

The green space, which used to be a mini golf course, was previously used by other organisations such as the Hackney Marshes Users Group.

Kings told Eastlondonlines: “We have about a thousand trees at our tree nursery and every winter, when the trees are dormant, we plant them out in Hackney’s parks and open spaces. After they’re planted out, we look after them in the parks.  

“Trees that are planted in a park need to be looked after and watered for at least two years, so we have teams in each of the parks that we work in and those teams do all the watering in the spring and summer. In the early autumn, they do any pruning or tree maintenance that is required.” 

While they primarily grow, plant and care for trees in the borough, the Tree Musketeers also do a number of other things such as forest gardening, bee keeping and caring for fungi. 

This summer was particularly tough for the volunteers due to the heat wave and long drought that hit the UK.

“It was hard because we do everything with hoses. With one hose, it takes over five hours to water trees. Although we’ve got two hoses, the water pressure dropped this summer so we could only use one. We had to water four or five times a week to keep the trees,” Kings explains. 

“They survived, but even then, they weren’t happy. Some of the leaves crisped and we were trying to find shade for some of the trees. The baby trees in the parks were desperate for water – even some of the more mature trees were. We managed to keep on top of it, but it was hard work.”

The Tree Musketeers are supported by Hackney Council and it approves all of the groups planting in advance.  

“It’s a very close working relationship. It’s very, very positive,” Kings says about the Tree Musketeers’ relationship with the council. “They just gave us the money to build a new compost toilet. They give us grants every now and again for specific projects and will send us details of grants we should apply for.”

Volunteers planting trees in Hackney parks Pic: Tree Musketeers

The group runs volunteering sessions every Wednesday and Friday and on the last Saturday of the month, but also organises several events to reach out to different groups of people throughout the year.  

They have organised a wide variety of events, from poetry and tools repair and refurbishing workshops to wellbeing and queer fungi talks. 

“When we bring in new volunteers, we emphasise the fact that it’s good to be outdoors doing physical work with trees, gardening, working with the bees, or whatever it is. It’s really good for you – it’s sociable and it’s good for your mental health.” 

Kings brought up concerns about recent incidents of vandalism of trees in Hackney and hopes the Tree Musketeers will encourage change: “If we can get people to understand the importance of trees, the beauty of trees and the need for trees, then that’s a good thing.” 

“We do our own little bit towards helping the environment. This summer people will have noticed that when it’s really hot, being under a tree is such a relief. It’s so lovely to be able to sit in hot weather under trees or walk along a pavement which has trees all the way along.  

“The good thing for us is knowing that there are people all over the world who are doing their little bit to contribute to combating climate change. And that’s what we do.” 

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