How Bettys’ 3m trees branched out from Blue Peter

Jonathan Wild with the first tree on the Stray in Harrogate
Jonathan Wild with the first tree on the Stray in Harrogate
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The first seed was planted nearly three decades ago, when clips of animals fleeing a burning forest disturbed the peace of a North Yorkshire living room.

The footage on Blue Peter in 1990 inspired Jonathan Wild, then the boss of the Bettys and Taylors tea and coffee business in Harrogate, to make a pledge to his children – one that has blossomed into a worldwide campaign to plant, save and protect trees.

The first sapling in the company’s Trees For Life initiative was planted in Yorkshire, and has been followed by three million across the world.

As Bettys prepares for next year’s centenary of its original, celebrated tea room, and in advance of National Tree Week, which starts tomorrow, it is now rolling out a new Trees For Life Fund, with £100,000 worth of grants supporting projects in Yorkshire that enhance, protect and educate youngsters about the environment.

“I came back from work one day and the children were very upset,” said Mr Wild, recalling the scheme’s genesis.

“They had seen a film clip of animals fleeing from a burning forest that had been deliberately torched.

“I said ‘don’t worry, we’ll replant all those trees. If you plant one, I’ll find a way of planting 999,999 more’.”

The first tree, a hornbeam sapling, was planted by his daughter, Chloë, then eight, opposite Bettys’ cafe in the centre of Harrogate.

Now fully grown and overlooking The Stray, it sits beside a plaque marking the planting of the campaign’s one millionth tree, in 2000.

In 2007, the initiative came full circle with the planting of tree 3m, at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Harlow Carr. The occasion was filmed for Blue Peter.

“I didn’t know I was committing to 30 years,” said Mr Wild, who took over as chairman of the business in the late 1980s, and is now retired.

“I feel very, very emotional thinking about how far it has come, and staggered, I suppose.

“I didn’t realise that a simple few words of bravado would mean so much.”

Mr Wild, under whose leadership the firm’s national brand, Yorkshire Tea, became a household name, added: “We have been backing an underdog amongst causes to believe in for 30 years, through thick and thin.

“Nowadays there’s a new generation making decisions in the business, so what’s emotional is seeing their commitment to the cause of trees, in spite of everything else, of all the other things that the business could be involved in.”

Bettys has injected around £100,000 a year into tree-related projects since 1990 and the total spent is now believed to have passed £3m.

The new Trees for Life Fund, backed by the Two Ridings Community Foundation, is encouraging community groups, schools and volunteer organisations to apply for grants of between £500 and £4,000, with applications open until next August at www.bettys.co.uk.