Planting for the Future by Phillip Evitt
In her Head’s Thoughts last week, written against the backdrop of Recycle Week and Greta Thunburg’s powerful address to the UN Climate Action Summit, Sophie highlighted what the schools are currently doing to nurture our environment and help reduce our carbon footprint. Central to this is our Biomass Plant and associated wood stacks, providing almost all our hot water and heating needs across our site and powered by sustainable clean energy. It certainly impressed the expert team from the South Downs National Park when they first visited the school over four years ago to discuss our then embryonic Development Plan, which grew into our Whole Estate Plan, ultimately unanimously endorsed by them. They were delighted by our ambition and vision, encapsulated in the Biomass project, but as we worked together, it quickly became clear that they were not just impressed by the Biomass alone. They marvelled at our beautiful grounds, the result of over a century of sustainable management, our woodland management programme and the attractive planting and sympathetic development of the whole site, testament to decades of imaginative, responsible and generous stewardship. They recognised the symbiotic relationship between creating a successful school and investment in its landscape and environment. The one supports and sustains the other.
This relationship was certainly understood by the founding Head, Canon William Mills, who wished to create a landscape in which children could play and flourish and what we see in the grounds today owes much to his powerful vision. When he bought the estate in 1906 it consisted of just forty acres of open fields and a barn, used for breeding and housing pheasants that became Highfield’s Library. Within a decade the landscape had been transformed through extensive planting of trees, avenues of Horse Chestnut on either side of Chapel Field and Lynchmere and the iconic Beech Avenue, that ran from the tennis courts to the Stanley Farm drive between Bramshott and Heathfield. Sadly, the Horse Chestnuts were lost to honey fungus in the early noughties and last October, to the dismay of us all, Beech Avenue, a magnificent avenue of mature trees that provided one of the most beautiful natural features of the grounds, had to be felled as many of the trees had become unsafe.
Just as the Horse Chestnuts were replanted, albeit by avenues of Lime and Ash, more resistant to honey fungus, so Beech Avenue is to be replanted later this term with fifty fine new Beech trees. This replanting is both a reaffirmation of the Canon’s vision and powerful confirmation of our continued commitment to the stewardship of our glorious environment. Not only is this planting in step with our environmental ambition, it is also to be a celebration of our commitment to broadening access to the school through the Centenary Bursary Fund. Current and past parents will be invited to donate towards the cost of a tree. This tree will be theirs ‘for life’ and 100% of the donation will go towards Highfield School Centenary Bursaries Fund.
What better way could there be to fulfil our responsibility to our children’s futures and to our environment than continuing to plant beautiful trees? That this planting is to be linked to our Bursary Programme, so that children who would otherwise never have the chance to enjoy a Brookham and Highfield education and our magical environment seems especially fitting.