Planting trees at home and abroad

By Steve Lewis, Head of Community Services

AirS Head of Community Services used to work in Africa and Latin America. We asked Steve if there are any similarities now with his work in Sussex, or is it all completely different…?

Weeding the Women’s tree nursery

After a career working on aid projects in the drylands of Africa, and the urban slums of Central America, I now support community work closer to home. Working in villages all over Sussex, my friends have asked me if the change is too abrupt?

But there are two common threads to my international work and my role here in Sussex. In both, I support communities to run their own projects. And in both, over the years, local people have planted trees.

From Barcombe to Bolivia, from East Dean to El Salvador, I have had the good fortune to work with people who – among their urgent need for better health, education or incomes, also saw the need to replenish the natural environment around them.

Living in El Salvador in the midst of the civil war, villagers could see beyond the daily fear of the army, and decided to plant tree nurseries. Living in one of those villages, I saw the children every day walking long distances to bring firewood back to the village. Farmers on the steep slopes told me that after years of deforestation, the soils had become thin and degraded.

Villagers collect their trees from the tree nursery, El Salvador

With funding from CAFOD  we were able to support women to plant tree nurseries. Collecting  local seeds the women nurtured the saplings, and watered during the long summer months. Many of the women requested fruit trees for their backyards – mango, lemons and avocados. With the end of the war, and demobilisation of soldiers, some ex-combatants also started a tree nursery, to replenish the woods with pine trees – good trees for planks to build houses.




This reforestation project in Ghana is part of the Green Wall being planted across Africa

In Zimbabwe I remember the vast hot plains, regularly suffering drought. Working then for Christian Aid we supported village level dams, and agro-forestry. Today groups like Tree Aid are trying to stem the creeping Sahara desert by supporting countries from Ethiopia to Ghana to plant a massive green wall across the continent.



Mercedes in Nicaragua. In North or South, trees combat Climate Change.

The people living in poverty are closest to the effects of the worlds changing climate. They can see the loss of wildlife with the loss of habitat. I recently lived in Nicaragua  and worked with projects like La Mariposa Spanish School  which helps local people to reforest, and regenerate the beautiful animals that should live in harmony with nature.


And now I am at AirS, in Sussex. And the joy is that in many communities local people are trying to plant trees, to educate the children, to encourage better behaviours, or prevent creeping urbanisation. I manage a great project, the Lost Woods project, that encourages local people to work in groups to nurture their local green spaces. With partners like the  Woodland Trust , Sussex Wildlife Trust and Small Woods Association we are working with communities to protect their local woods. We are blessed in Sussex with the wonderful South Downs National Park, but the real joy is with the little village groups. I salute the work of Steyning for Trees, the Hurstpierpoint Flora & Fauna group, More Trees Please (Shoreham) and many others.


Like this group in Shoreman there are local ‘Friends of …’ groups all over Sussex.

From Africa to Ardingly, actually its not the trees that come first. It’s the community organisation, the slow task of building a little group that is committed and will work. The people who come first are the volunteers and the activists – and their spirit is the same wherever you work.

Photos – El Salvador (Steve Lewis), Ghana (Tree Aid), Mercedes (Greg Bowles), Shoreham (More Trees Please)

“Supporting rural communities in Sussex to be vibrant and diverse places in which to live and work.”