Stuttgart. We received positive comments from many people responding to our offer of a free Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis) at their wedding. The tree of the year for 2011 was ordered by couples for their wedding day, registrars, pastors, and naturally from friends and relatives. Examples were also ordered by a Young Red Cross group, a local group of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and a Catholic kindergarten. “This is a great offer” commented one Registrar.
Sorbus torminalis has a very hard, high quality wood and can live for over 300 years, while the fruit can be used in many different recipes. Traditionally German couples would plant a Wild Service Tree together to represent their hopes for a happy and long lasting relationship (See www.hochzeitselsbeere.de). Over 100 Lutheran churches have planted a Wild Service Tree since 2009. This, along with the state '111 Species' initiative and the actions of many commuted forest rangers, has begun to reintroduce the Wild Service tree as a native species.
“We are surprised at how fast the 500 saplings were ordered, and we are delighted that a rare species will be planted again.” commented Dr. Hans-Hermann Böhm, the environment officer for the state church.
The “Wedding Tree” initiative was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Stiftung Naturschutzfonds of Baden-Württemberg, a charitable trust set up to support ecological projects.
Evaluation of the “Wedding tree” project.
This initiative has made couples, pastors and registrars aware of the importance of species variety, while many ecological organisations and environmentally conscious individuals have been made aware of environmental work by the church.
Similar initiatives are well suited to regional organisations like church administrative districts or denominations. The concept of 'tree of the year' is a good starting point, a concrete way people can make a contribution to creation care, giving a clear message that people can do something themselves. It also gives a positive perception of the work of the church particularly among people more distant from the church.
The following steps need to take place for a successful “Wedding Tree” initiative:
1. Secure finances.
2. Buy seedlings.
3. Find a logistic partner (The whole initiative was operated through an mail-order garden supplier)
4. Leaflets and a homepage (In Germany this was www.hochzeitselsbeere.de)
5. Publicity: Here it was vital to make sure we reached specific target groups. The message that “Churches are presenting couples with a tree!” wasn't just sent internally, but for example to all registrars, and the local groups of the WWF and other conservation groups, and gardening associations in Baden-Württemberg.
People wanting a tree could order them using the homepage. The orders went directly to the logistic partner and were processed there, leaving the project leader free to deal with publicity and press inquiries.
Finishing and long term plans.
At the end of the offer the homepage had to be rebuilt from an ordering site to an “archive” page. A final press release and a final report had to be prepared for the financing body. There are currently no plans to continue the offer.
Experience and results.
In one short month all 500 trees were ordered and given out. In the order form it was possible to leave feedback and we received very positive comments. Our most important experience was:
1. When you give something away, do it completely! If we had asked for a donation the administrative burden would have increased massively, and we would not have had the same goodwill from people.
2. We made the decision that we would not ask for 'compulsory feedback' or similar. We would give something without asking for anything in return, not even a photograph or quotation.
3. The media reacted very well to the keyword “gift”
4. There were many opportunities for relationship building in the local communities. For example pastors took the opportunity to visit couples who had recently married or to invite them to a “tree presentation service”.
5. The work of the church and our species protection efforts were positively received by people active in creation care, (for example in the German site www.baum-des-jahres.de)