Natural Flood Management: Tree Planting Volunteer Days

DateApr 1, 2019
AuthorLucy Speller Bsc (Hons) FGS


Groundsure offer the opportunity for each employee to volunteer in the local community, one day per year. During the winter of 2018 and spring of 2019, several groups of us took advantage of this, volunteering with the Sussex Flow Initiative on a tree and hedgerow planting project at the Sussex Horse Rescue Trust in Uckfield.

This project has been ongoing since 2016 and the overall aim is to lessen the impact of flooding across Sussex. For this site in particular, the idea is to reduce the impact of flooding from the River Uck, provide additional shelter for animals at the Trust and to create wildlife corridors between nearby designated environmental sites1.

Natural Flood Management blog - Donkeys

Donkeys who live at the trust - photo credit Chloe Mitchell


The Sussex Flow Initiative had scoped out the site and developed a planting plan alongside the landowner, which would improve the usability of their fields for the horses and donkeys while also ensuring the maximum benefit of the natural flood management scheme.

Natural Flood Management blog - Hedgerow and woodland planting planHedgerow and woodland planting plan2

The field chosen for planting was sloping relatively steeply towards the River Uck at the bottom of the valley. The local geology underlying the site is the Wadhurst Clay Formation and this field had a history of becoming waterlogged, both from surface water runoff and the River Uck, making it too muddy for the animals to use at times and was also very open and windy – as we soon discovered!

The idea was to divide the large field into smaller fields by planting native tree and hedgerow species parallel to the river, in order to increase the uptake of water by vegetation and infiltration to groundwater.This would reduce the volume of runoff and hopefully lessen the impact of flooding from the river. Lateral planting would not only help to provide extra shelter for the animals from the wind but would also ensure the most efficient flow capture method, as water runs downhill it will ideally be taken up by each hedgerow. As a Designated Ancient Woodland was present along the eastern boundary of the site and a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) was close to the north-west, it was also decided that planting areas of woodland, in addition to the hedgerows, could create wildlife corridors where there had previously been open fields.

The native species we were to be planting included field maple, holly and hawthorn for the hedgerows and trees such as oak. These were all about a foot tall when we were planting but they will soon mature over the next few years.

Our Task

When we arrived at the site in March, the majority of the new field and hedgerow planting had been completed, so our task was to create an area of woodland. We also helped to finish off an area of hedgerow denoting one of the new fields.

Natural Flood Management blog - Planting hedgerows

Planting hedgerows - photo credit Sussex Flow Initiative

The main task was to involve planting trees in a semi-regular fashion and ensuring hedgerow plants would be prevalent throughout the space, which would eventually become a woodland with bushes and shrubs as ground cover.

We quickly adopted a system where some volunteers would dig holes and others would follow behind, planting and installing protection for the young plants. The area has deer running through the site fairly often so the trees had to be staked and wrapped with a green protective tube to prevent damage. The shrubs were to be supported by bamboo canes and protected from hungry rabbits by a clear plastic collar which was simple to wind round the plants once you got the hang of it. This winding method rather than using a solid tube, like with the trees, will allow the plants to branch out and push back and out of their supporting ‘tubes’ once they become established and enable them to grow into a typical hedge rather than constricting growth.

We were digging through lots of clay and waterlogged ground. The groundwater was so high in places it was filling up some holes before we could plant anything – and this was before the rain of Storm Gareth started! It was easy to see how the area was naturally prone to flooding.

Natural Flood Management blog - Planting woodlandPlanting woodland - photo credit Sussex Flow Initiative


We were informed that the landowner had agreed to maintain the hedgerows and new woodland areas, which will involve daily checking on the baby trees to ensure they haven’t been blown over in the strong winds and repositioning them as necessary if any fall over.

The scale of projects such as the one we helped on is often too much for small organisations like the Sussex Flow Initiative to maintain on their own, so the willingness of landowners and land occupiers to help with schemes such as this is invaluable, as are the volunteers involved in the initial planting and those providing funding.

Natural Flood Management blog - Groundsure volunteersGroundsure volunteers finishing planting - photo credit Mark Allen


We had some great days out of the office, thoroughly enjoying getting stuck into a project which had multi-beneficiaries, from the donkeys and horses living at the Trust to the local wildlife and community as a whole.

Flooding itself is a natural phenomenon and thus perhaps such a phenomenon requires a natural solution. Natural flood management enhancement plans such as the one we assisted on are invaluable in that they not only aim to reduce negative impacts of flooding in a natural way, but also contribute to a more aesthetically pleasing landscape for us all to enjoy. On the March volunteer day alone, we planted 300 trees and shrubs!

Natural Flood Management blog - Sussex Flow InitiativeAn interesting infographic3 from the Sussex Flow Initiative shows how schemes such as this one benefit not only the environment but also local communities.

Get involved!

There is a public footpath which runs through the site, so if in 5-10 years you happen to be walking through an area of woodland owned by the Sussex Horse Rescue Trust, it may be our baby trees you are admiring!

If you would like to get involved in future tree planting days or any of the other schemes offered by the Sussex Flow Initiative, they are always on the lookout for volunteers who enjoy a ‘little’ mud so get involved by checking out their website:

And if you’re not local to Sussex, then there may be a similar scheme near you – your local Environment Agency office should be able to point you in the right direction.

1. Sussex Flow Initiative (2018). Trees for flood resilience. [Online] Available at [Accessed 16th March 2019].
2. Turley, M. and Southgate, F. (2018). Sussex Flow Initiative Case Study: Natural Flood Management at Sussex Horse Rescue Trust. [Online] Available at [Accessed 16th March 2019].
3. Sussex Flow Initiative (2017). Celebrating 5 years of the Sussex Flow Initiative. [Online] Available at [Accessed 16th March 2019].