Escape to the Country features first planting in South Downs tree campaign

TV presenter Nicki Chapman has planted the first of more than 8,500 trees on the South Downs after the Trees for the Downs campaign smashed its fundraising target.

She was filmed digging in a field maple, alongside South Downs National Park woodlands officer Bob Epsom, as part of a future episode of Escape to the Country.

The year-long campaign, which was launched during National Tree Week last November, has been such a success, it has been extended for a further five years.

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Nick Heasman, head of the national park’s woodlands team, said: “We’ve been very encouraged by the support for Trees for the Downs and the campaign has just snowballed.

Nicki Chapman plants the first tree in the Trees for the Downs campaign, alongside South Downs National Park woodlands officer Bob Epsom

“Trees are part of the rich tapestry of features that make the South Downs landscape so special to people. They’re also cornerstones of any ecosystem and that means by planting more trees in the right place, we’re helping nature recovery, improving the quality of the soil and helping to mitigate against climate change.”

The campaign was launched by the South Downs National Park Trust to replace trees that had been lost over the past few decades, including those affected by ash dieback and dutch elm disease.

More than £65,000 has come from generous public donations and now South East Water has given a grant of £75,000, so significant tree planting can take place across the region to bring new habitat for wildlife and help restore soils.

Mr Heasman said: “This additional funding from South East Water is a great boost and means we can continue to plant new life-giving trees potentially for the next five years.

The campaign was launched by the South Downs National Park Trust to replace trees that had been lost over the past few decades, including those affected by ash dieback and dutch elm disease

“We’re looking forward to getting these trees in the ground over the winter and watching them develop over the coming years. It’s exciting to know we will be planting many more in the years ahead.”

The first tree was planted at Hamilton Farm, near Beauworth in Hampshire, and as the project continues, South East Water will be giving £15,000 every year until 2025 for more trees.

Richard Dyer, biodiversity manager at South East Water, said: “As well as providing top-quality drinking water to our customers, protecting and enhancing the natural environment is one of our highest priorities. That’s why we are so pleased to be supporting Trees for the Downs over the next five years.

“As significant landowners, we look after 33 sites which are within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), a National Nature Reserve, two nature reserves and numerous sites within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“We know that planting these trees will have numerous benefits for the natural landscape, including an increase in biodiversity, improvement in water quality and by creating more resilience against drought and flooding.

“Keeping water clean at its source means we have to do less in the water treatment process to make it safe to drink, ultimately reducing our carbon footprint and keeping customers’ bills low.”

During the summer, landowners and community groups were able to apply for tree planting over the winter. The successful projects across Hampshire and Sussex all provide benefits to people, wildlife and the landscape of the National Park. Priority was also given to those sites where the trees would be visible from a public place, such as the footpath or highway.

Julie Fawcett, trust chairman, said: “We want to thank everyone who donated over the past year. The support of South East Water is a huge boost and, as well as securing enough funding for at least another 8,500 trees on top of those we’re already planting, it also means that the fundraising drive for Trees for the Downs can continue in earnest and we can potentially top up this amount.

“With the public’s help and South East Water, it’s our hope to be able to plant tens of thousands of trees, so watch this space.”

Future rounds of tree planting, including black poplar, oak, field maple and disease-resistant elms pioneered by Hillier, will be subject to a similar applications process and expressions of interest will be encouraged from landowners, farmers and community-interest organisations with suitable land for tree planting.

To donate to the Trees for the Downs campaign, visit

The following trees will be planted this winter:

Findon Valley, 4,078 trees over three different locations

Preshaw Estate in Warnford, 1,844 trees

Graffham Down, 780 trees over two different locations

Great Barn Farm in Steyning, 275 trees

Hoddern Farm at Peacehaven, 200 trees

Midhurst Youth Group in Stedham, 200 trees

Colworth Farm in West Dean, 160 trees

Harting Down Clump in South Harting, 150 trees

Coventry Plantation in Findon, 100 trees

Deeps Copse in Lower Upham, 100 trees

Reeds Farm in Empshott, 100 trees

Rushmere Farm in Hambledon, 60 trees

Hamilton Farm in Beauworth, 50 trees

Courts Farm in Fernhurst, 50 trees

Birling Farm at East Dean, 50 trees

Alfords Farm at Milland, 35 trees