A National Arboretum for the Victims of Covid19

An image of a  mature woodland with the sun breaking through pine tress

The loss of life attributable to Covid19 is astonishing, taken even in the United Kingdom as of May 22nd 2020 the death toll in hospitals alone exceeds 36,000 [source: Gov.uk]. It is unwise to talk about the exactness of these figures, the level of ‘excess mortality’ and so on, at this stage this is an indication that since the first death was recorded in the UK, there are a tens of thousands of families who have lost a loved one, friends and colleagues who are mourning. 

Comparisons with seasonal infections are facile and unhelpful, this is by any measure an extraordinary sombre international crisis. In the midst of the pandemic with only glimmers of hope, it is easy to assume this would never be forgotten, it will always be a keenly-felt loss. The immediacy of the event will pass, of course, and with increasing distance from the daily press briefings, the front-page photographs, ascending graphs and the echoing claps, the salience of the losses will fade. In some ways this is longed-for. We all want to be through the finish line (as if such a thing will exist) the pandemic consigned to a historical account of 2020. 

Naturally, this does not erase its permanent effect on many of us and most emphatically on those that have or will experience the death of a loved one. To this end, I have proposed that we remember them in a time-honoured and sustainable way. I propose the creation or extension of a national living memorial, through the establishment of an arboretum (def: a collection of trees) or National Forest. 

Each victim, howsoever defined, would be marked with a native species tree, their plot identified precisely with GPS and registered. These plots could be augmented with a digital map where, with agreement from relatives, they could be enriched with a photograph and their name

The practicalities
The National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire have preemptively issued a statement concerning their position, based on their existing criterion for the memorial to be related to “those [that] have suffered or made sacrifices for others”, and as such:

[the criterion] would mean we could not accept a memorial for those who have lost their lives to this terrible disease, it is our belief that the service and sacrifice of our NHS and our key workers could be recognised with a memorial within our grounds. We would therefore welcome an application from an association/ charitable body or government department with funds to create and maintain (in perpetuity) a memorial for this special cohort of people at the Arboretum.

Though this perhaps rules out the use of the existing site, it seems feasible nevertheless to consider a unique and new forest is planted. Based on the density of planting around 2000 trees per hectare, this would equate to an area of about 0.2 sq/km for 40,000 trees. A full square km of land would accommodate significantly more trees (assuming one plants several for each victim to account for possible loss/thinning) and the associated paths, landscaping and site infrastructure. All these figures are napkin calculations but serve to demonstrate that the proposal need not demand a vast parcel of land. Although getting well ahead of myself, it strikes me that a site somewhere in the geographical centre of the UK would feel appropriately accessible. For an example of how brilliantly this can be executed, one need only look at Glenn Howells Architects’ work to support the existing National Arboretum and in that spirit, an open competition from landscape architects and designers seems entirely appropriate.

Photo Credit: Rob Parrish

Whilst this may have readers nodding along in agreement, I hope it does, I am at a loss as to how to move the idea beyond my own musings.


My original petition was rejected by the Government portal due to similarity with existing petitions (which didn’t exist at the time I submitted it!) so although we can sign these..

  • Commission a Memorial Plaque to honour and remember UK victims of the Covid-19 [ Petition ]
  • A memorial for NHS, care, allied professionals, who die as a result of COVID:19 [ Petition ]

.. the specifics of the living memorial are not specified and one is specific to key workers.

I and others remain unconvinced about the efficacy of other non-government petition platforms which can so-easily be dismissed (evidence, slightly more positive evidence) and therefore I’m unsure of the next move. It strikes me that support from the public, organisations, press, media and public figures should be gathered and if this gains momentum then gathering this through Change.org or similar.

Any advice, support or direction is gratefully appreciated, like, share, retweet and re-post with energy, please.

UPDATE: Dec 2020. London’s rather underwhelming proposal is a re-plant of areas on the Olympic park with 32 trees.

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