Paul McSwiggan, principal EH officer at Derry City and Strabane District Council, told EHN about changing the world one tree at a time.
"To reduce the impact of air pollution on health and wellbeing, the Life Project provides a tree sapling for every life event (birth, stillbirth, marriage, civil partnership or death) registered in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area.
"Recipients are encouraged to plant the tree at their own property, but if they don’t have a suitable location the council will plant it for them. Last year, 4,000 life events were registered and about half of those took a sapling.
"The project is still in its infancy – I was asked to lead it in February last year – but I think it’s fantastic. Relating it to life events is what makes it special.
"We mostly give out oak saplings but are looking at other tress more suited to an urban garden, such as rowan and crabapple.
"We held our first community planting day last November in the local district park. The Woodland Trust provided a mix of trees and we planted about 1,100 on the day to represent people who registered life events but who didn’t have room or didn’t want to take a tree.
"That kind of day is really important for inclusion in Northern Ireland. The registration service addresses all socioeconomic groups and the planting day brought the whole community together.
"The staff in the registration office have been fantastic. They are trained in how to deal with people going through different emotions. Obviously, some are excited and happy when registering a birth, but in terms of death and stillbirth it’s a very different tone.
"Every directorate in the council has contributed to the Life Project’s success. Then there’s the Woodland Trust, North West Regional College and local conservation volunteers who look after the saplings for us. We’re also part of a bigger strategy when it comes to the council and the Public Health Agency, which provided the initial funding and continues to fund the project.
"We know it’s not going to change the planet all by itself, but it’s a step in the right direction."
This article is adapted from one that appeared in the October 2019 issue of EHN (login required).