• Helen Avery

Trees For Life Looks Beyond Philanthropy

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

When Euromoney pulls into the Dundreggan Conservation Estate, where Trees for Life’s main operations are based, in the Highlands of Scotland just a few miles from Loch Ness, a red-faced middle-aged man in shorts, T-shirt and backpack is sitting at the entrance waving.

“I’ve just walked 144 miles to be here from Glasgow,” he says, adding he is on “a sort of pilgrim- age.” He has heard about the mission to plant millions of trees and wanted to help out for a few days. Such is the reputation of Trees for Life.

The 25-year-old non-profit has now planted over 1.6 million trees across the north of Scotland, mainly thanks to volunteers, who travel from all over the world to see the ancient wood- land of Glen Affric and the Highlands and to make their own contribution.

TfL’s founder, Alan Watson Featherstone, came from the spiritual community of Findhorn an hour’s drive north in Moray, and TfL was built largely by spiritual seekers, backpackers and bohemians. In the last four years it has sought to establish corporate partnerships and commercial ventures in a bid to become self-sustaining. 

“About five years ago it became clear that volunteers alone were not going to get us to this aim of restoring the Caledonian forest on a large scale,” says Alan McDonnell, conservation manager for Trees for Life (below).

Along with McDonnell, a new chief executive was put in place, as well as a corporate responsibility head.  A Tesla pulls up into Dundreggan’s driveway with Edinburgh plates – it’s bankers on a corporate retreat. While here, they will plant trees, help out in the tree nurseries and learn why the ancient woodlands are important. Such visits are educational and offer a financial boost for TfL – Dundreggan is running at a loss of £50,000 a year.  But one arm of TfL is financially sound, and it is a sign that carbon offsets can help forward-thinking conservation charities continue their missions. TfL has an arms-length consultancy business that advises landowners in Scotland who want to restore land to native forests – assisted by the ability to sell carbon credits. One year in and that part of the charity is already close to breaking even. It can charge more than some of its local competitors by using its own experience certifying TfL’s projects through the Woodland Carbon Code. 

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