National Tree Week marks the beginning of the winter tree planting season in the UK. To help mark the occasion, we asked freelance writer Charlotte Lorimer to find out more about Starling’s partnership with Trillion Trees, a joint venture for forest protection made up of three of the world’s largest conservation organisations: BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and WWF.

"Some people look at a forest and only see trees or only think of carbon being sucked out of the air. Whereas for me, forests are a source of wellbeing," says Anna Kitulagoda, Head of Trillion Trees for WWF.

"It’s about medicines, food, shelter, livelihoods, weather, holding soil in place, protecting fresh water supplies, biodiversity - 80% of known terrestrial species live in and around forests. And it’s about beauty - who wouldn’t want to spend time in a forest? They’re staggeringly beautiful and can be brilliant for your mental health."

Our referral programme means that each time you refer a friend, colleague or family member to Starling and they become a new customer, we support the work of Trillion Trees. Every Starling referral brings Trillion Trees one step closer to reaching its target of protecting and restoring one trillion trees by 2050. Usually we plant one tree per referral. But during National Tree Week, between 28th November and 6th December, we’re doubling our commitment - for every successful referral, we’ll plant two trees.

How Trillion Trees works

To reach its goal, Trillion Trees has three main avenues of work - ending deforestation, improving protection and advancing restoration.

"In some places where the forest has already been degraded, restoration is our priority. That’s where the funding from our partnership with Starling will be invested - we’re spending the money in East Africa and looking at the fragments and pockets of forest to restore and reconnect them in a way that supports the needs of wildlife and the community."

Looking at each landscape as a whole is fundamental to the way Trillion Trees works. "Nature is incredibly interconnected. If we tried to think about things in isolation, we would miss solutions. We frame everything in terms of landscapes, which means looking at land areas and trying to understand what the different people in that landscape depend on," she says.

"For example, we recently talked to a company who were concerned about the quality and the quantity of fresh water, because that’s what they’re dependent on for their core business. What we found was that we needed to restore the forest at the watershed (an area of land that catches water and drains off into a body of water), because that’s how you make sure that the rain keeps falling and you get a steady consistent amount of fresh water coming down stream. It’s only when you look at things as a whole that you can find a solution that’s truly sustainable."

Trillion Trees strives to align everything with the needs and experiences of local communities. "We work with people in various countries and focus on empowering them - that’s the only way sustainability is ever going to be achieved."

Beyond holistic thinking and a community-centric approach, the third foundational element of how Trillion Trees works is making decisions based on scientific research and analysis. "We are first and foremost a science-led organisation - same for Birdlife International and WCS," says Diana Winpenny, Partnerships Development Manager for WWF.

"It’s so important to make sure that you’re planting the right trees in the right places. We also do a lot of monitoring to make sure a tree actually grows to be a mature tree that plays a role in the ecosystem."

How Trillion Trees restores landscapes

Forests in East Africa are often cut down so that the land can be farmed. The timber itself also has a value for building houses or as fuel wood. "There are an awful lot of places where land without trees is seen as more valuable than land with trees," says Anna. It is partly for this reason that Trillion Trees focuses its attention outside the UK, working in places where preventing deforestation and facilitating restoration has the greatest impact.

There are a number of ways that Trillion Trees seeks to support farming families and communities. They aim for solutions that make sense for people and for the planet. One is by providing guidance on farming so that crops can continue to be grown on the same piece of land, which indirectly saves more trees from being cut down. Another is by agreeing where cattle can graze - sometimes by arranging to keep cattle off a certain piece of land, the seeds already in the soil will grow into trees, without further interference.

How our partnership works

"Our partnerships are very much joint ventures, rather than a more traditional philanthropic model where businesses make a donation and move on," says Diana. "We look at how both us and the business are uniquely positioned to make an impact."

This philosophy of working together is what underpins our referrals scheme. Starling customers can refer a friend by going to the main menu of the app.

Starling Bank will make a donation to WWF-UK, a registered charity with charity registration number 1081247 in England and Wales and SC039593 in Scotland, of £3 for each bank account, which is successfully opened with Starling Bank as a result of a referral under this scheme.

Update 13 April 2023: Our partnership with Trillion Trees has now ended and we’re proud to say that together, we committed to planting 100,000 trees. We’ve now launched our new partnership with the National Trust – Europe’s largest conservation charity.

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