Whenever a Starling customer refers a friend through the app and they open an account, we plant a tree to say thank you. It’s a commitment that’s enabled by our partnership with Trillion Trees, a joint venture between three of the world’s largest conservation organisations – BirdLife International, Wildlife Conservation Society and WWF.

As a result of Starling customer referrals, we’re on our way to planting 85,000 trees. A portion of these will be looked after by a Tanzanian women led co-operative (Kaza-mwendo) with support from WWF, the Trillion Trees partner. The co-operative is run by Nietiwe Robert (pictured above), one of several women dedicated to the restoration and conservation of the Amani Nature Reserve.

Fighting climate change

“I started my plant nursery co-operative fifteen years ago with a group of three friends, all of us women,” says Nietiwe. The co-operative now includes eight women, all working together to earn a living and help restore the forests of the Usambara Mountains, some of which are part of the Amani Nature Reserve.

The forests are home to several endangered species, including the black and white coloured Colobus monkeys and the long-billed Tailorbird.

“A big challenge we face is the changing climate. The rains are now unpredictable and sometimes we’re unable to sell the number of seedlings we expect in each season,” she says. “But we are resilient. We’re developing a plan to expand the nursery.”

The women of the nursery planting saplings together

One of the ways that Trillion Trees intends to support Nietiwe is by helping her plan which native species to plant, for example clove or cinnamon. Several species not only support the restoration of the Usambara Mountains, but provide animals with homes and the local community with food and income security. Trillion Trees also looks to help source specialist equipment for the nursery and gives advice and guidance on how to grow particular species.

The seedlings are tended to by Nietiwe and her nursery for around 12-18 months before being replanted in a restoration area nearby, aided by Trillion Trees. By working together, the nursery and Trillion Trees can ensure the seedlings are robust and develop into strong and healthy trees. Lots of saplings are also sold to local farmers for agroforestry, the term for growing trees in a way that protects livestock and adds important nutrients to the soil.

“Through our work and that of our community the local environment will continue to improve despite the unpredictable rains,” says Nietiwe. “Restoring the reserve has resulted in positive changes in the microclimate, where water accessibility and temperatures (now that the trees are providing shade) are improving on a local scale. Many people’s health and mental wellbeing have also improved.”

Inspiring the next generation

“It’s exciting as over the last few years, the message of our success has travelled. Visitors, often women, regularly stop by to hear about our business model and learn how we have set up the nursery,” says Nietiwe. The money the nursery makes from selling its saplings is fed back into the business to buy new seeds and equipment and employ its team of women.

“Before we started the nursery there were times when I was not able to pay for my daughters’ schooling and they were sent home until I had funds available to do so. Since starting our nursery, that has changed.” Two of Nietiwe’s daughters are educated at a local school and her third is studying economics at Mzumbe University in Morogoro.

“We are inspiring the next generation - children are getting involved in the nursery and some of them are starting to express an interest in taking it on in the future. That, along with our contribution to restoring the forests of these beautiful mountains, fills me with hope.”

Under the referral scheme, 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.

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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