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How Tree Appeal began

The first tree Appeal tree planting at Raby Castle

Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland helps to plant the first Tree Appeal tree at Raby Castle, County Durham.

In simple terms Tree Appeal was started in 2004 by co-founders Bob Swinbank and Ken Whitley but there were a number of factors and events that came together to make it possible.

Ken WhitleyKen Whitley grew up on a farm where he developed a lifelong appreciation for nature as well as hands-on farming skills. Later in life he gave up a secure position as national marketing manager for a major farm nutrition company to launch and head a farmers buying consortium. Agri-Trade had more than 200 farmer members, many in the dairy sector, which prompted Ken to come up with “White & Wild”.

White & Wild posterWhite & Wild was a milk brand which paid its farmers a premium if they committed to farming in a wildlife friendly way. The scheme required them to dedicate 10% of their land to wildlife habitat creation which was achieved by planting and managing hedgerows with a protected two metre strip either side. These “wildlife corridors” were not cultivated, sprayed or fertilised and created a haven for natural eco-systems to develop and thrive. Barn Owls were chosen as a bioindicator that the eco-system was repairing and their return to a farm was a sign that all the important elements – plants, insects, mammals – were present and flourishing.

WildCare brandingInitially, White & Wild was sold exclusively through Sainsbury's using Bill Oddie as the endorsing celebrity. Over a three year period more than £1.6m worth of PR was generated and Bill Oddie maintains that the raised profile helped relaunch his career as a wildlife broadcaster.

DEFRA was formed in June 2001, under the leadership of Margaret Beckett, when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) was merged with part of the Department of Environment, Transport and the regions (DETR) and with a small part of the Home Office. It was created after the perceived failure of MAFF, to deal adequately with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease.

DEFRA published their first Biodiversity Strategy for England in 2002 in which they featured the White & Wild milk brand. A copy of this very first Biodiversity Strategy can be downloaded here: DEFRA-biostrategy.pdf . White & Wild is feature on page 40 and in the Appendix:1 on page 94.

DEFRA also showed their support for Tree Appeal in 2005.

About this time, the recently created DEFRA was shifting its emphasis towards grants encouraging environmental conservation, reflecting the approach that White & Wild had pioneered with its “Wildcare” scheme. To launch the scheme DEFRA requested the use of White & Wild imagery, including pictures of Bill Oddie putting up Barn Owl nest boxes. Ken was invited to the launch at the Royal Show where he met HRH Prince Charles who personally requested that White & Wild introduce an organic range.

DEFRA's wholehearted adoption of the ideas pioneered by White & Wild was great news for the environment but left the brand looking for a new unique selling point in order to differentiate itself. That search was to result in the creation of Tree Appeal.

Bill Oddie and Bob Sinbank with their Green Apple Award

Bill Oddie and Bob Swinbank at the Houses of Parliament with our first Green Apple Award.

For some time Ken had been working with Bob Swinbank on various projects. Bob came from a marketing background with over 30 years experience in event management, design and print. Together Ken and Bob had created a graphic design and print business which centred around running a franchise. Tree planting had been chosen as an appropriate way to reward clients and also offset some of the impact of the printing process.

Sainsbury's and White & Wild Milk It seemed an obvious choice to make tree planting the new USP for the milk brand and so a revitalised White & Wild was born. The concept was simple – for every 50 bottles of milk purchased a tree would be planted. This was such a tangible and emotive offering that sales doubled in the first few weeks. In all, more than 50,000 trees were to be planted by sales of the brand through Sainsbury's alone and a further 20,000 through the Scottish brand.

Tree planting with In 2005, recognising the potential, approached Tree Appeal to extend the scheme to all of their 180 franchises across the UK. Planting 10,000 trees per year, their vigorous marketing activities generated interest across many business sectors and helped to give Tree Appeal a life of its own.


Tree Appeal logoBob Swinbank and Ken Whitley’s passion for wildlife and their combined sales and marketing experience came together to create this unique tree planting, environmental marketing company. Tree Appeal's ethos is to help companies go green while gaining a marketing and business benefit for doing so as well as delivering their CSR and sustainability objectives.

Read about what happened in the following 10 years.