Thriving from ancient roots, planting for the future

Thriving from ancient roots, planting for the future

Boys at QE planted hundreds of trees and flower bulbs, ensuring that the School’s 450th anniversary year would leave a living environmental legacy.

Forty-seven boys from Year 10 headed to Heartwood Forest with the aim of planting one sapling for every year of the School’s history, while back at the Queen’s Road campus, Year 7 pupils helped plant bulbs. The bulbs were selected so that the flowers will bloom each year around 24th March, the day of the signing of the Royal Charter in 1573.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “Our anniversary year has been about celebrating the present and looking to the future, as well as remembering our rich history: so, what better way to mark the end of the year than by doing some planting – an activity bringing environmental benefits to both current and future generations!”

Trees have been a theme throughout the anniversary year. HRH The Duke of Gloucester heralded the start of the anniversary celebrations by planting an oak tree when he visited the School near the end of 2022. In his anthem commissioned for the thanksgiving service on 24th March 2023 in Westminster Abbey, international composer Howard Goodall wrote that “like an oak [QE] draws its strength from ancient roots spread deep and wide”. And “thriving from ancient roots” was chosen as the slogan for the year.

The area planted in Heartwood Forest, near St Albans, has been donated to the Woodland Trust relatively recently. The trust aims to reverse deforestation there, creating corridors for wildlife. The 47 boys, accompanied by staff including Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter and Head of English Robert Hyland, spent several hours working in the mud to plant several species of young trees under the guidance of trust volunteers. During their labours, the boys saw wildlife including deer and red kites. The Headmaster also stopped by to lend a hand with the planting.

The eager planters easily exceeded their target of 450, Mr Bonham-Carter explained. “We lost count in the end, but we estimate that our 47 boys planted upwards of 700. Many thanks to The Woodland Trust for looking after us and helping us mark the end of our 450th anniversary in such a long-lasting and life-affirming way.”

The opportunity arose after last year’s Year 10 visited Heartwood Forest on the QE Flourish days in July – special activities run as part of the School’s Flourish extra-curricular programme – and took part in various conservation activities.

Mr Hyland added that the Year 10 pupils had recently been reading extracts from authors such as Henry David Thoreau, William Hazlitt and Edward O. Wilson on environmental themes. “When it comes to raising awareness of ecology and sustainability, it is so much more powerful, however, to experience a connection to the world around us at first-hand.”

The bulb-planting by Year 7 around the School campus was also a muddy experience. The new plants will provide visual interest, as well as supporting the ecology and biodiversity of the School site, building on existing efforts to re-wild selected areas.