Tuesday, February 20

The “greatest planting campaign in history” in Madrid ends with thousands of dead trees

Dry, extirpated and lifeless. This is how the thousands of trees that the Madrid City Council planted only six months ago to compensate for the loss caused by the Filomena storm are found. They have not been able to withstand the hottest summer since there are records, but they also did not receive the necessary help –mainly, irrigation– to prosper. The residents of the affected neighborhoods say they have never seen a municipal employee pass through these fields. “I run through here every day, it is completely abandoned. It is not surprising that the trees have not survived”, denounces Jorge Romero, a resident of the Ensanche de Vallecas.

The map of the streets without trees in Madrid

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In July, the government of the popular José Luis Martínez Almeida announced with great fanfare that it had carried out “the largest planting campaign in its history.” With 90,620 new trees – 12% more than those that were devastated at the beginning of 2021 – the council detailed it’s a statement having recovered “all the forest mass that was lost due to the Filomena storm”. Nothing is further from reality. After the summer there is only a sea of ​​protective plastic tubes that children use to play outside.

Since the replanting began, neighborhood associations and opposition parties have constantly denounced the state of abandonment of these trees. “Even before the campaign ended we saw where things were going. They had left the seedlings abandoned and without watering in the middle of summer”, explains Luciano Navajo, gardener and spokesperson for Ecologistas en Acción.

The council claims to be aware of the condition of the trees. During a municipal plenary session, the City Council’s Environment and Mobility delegate, Borja Carabante, attributed the ecological disaster to “the three heat waves that have occurred this year, which has been the harshest summer since 1961.” In fact, he promised to replant all the specimens that have not prospered, although he has not specified when the operation will be carried out, or how much it will cost the public coffers.

A wasteland of rubble and weeds

The PAU Neighborhood Association of Ensanche de Vallecas has spent months monitoring the situation of the trees planted in the vicinity of the La Gavia metro stop. There, in a wasteland full of rubble and weeds that reach a meter in height, the plantations never had a chance to prosper. After having carried out a sampling at the end of September, the neighbors have been able to verify that around 77% of these trees are dead. “I would like to understand who came up with the idea that something could grow in these conditions. It is outrageous to invest public money in this way”, comments Romero indignantly.

The scene of the Ensanche de Vallecas is repeated in other vacant lots and areas near the highways that surround the city. These tree cemeteries are also found in the districts of Usera, Barajas, San Blas, Villaverde and Latina, among others. During the heat waves, the Carabanchel Tree Association tried to give first aid to the dying trees with irrigation campaigns. However, they immediately realized that no neighborhood initiative was going to be able to save the thousands of trees that the City Council had neglected. “It was necessary to give them water at least once a week, something that was clearly not done. It is not surprising that most of them have died”, comments Fernando Gómez, founding partner of the platform.

The councilor and socialist spokesperson for the Environment Commission, Ignacio Benito, attributes the failure of the municipal government’s planting campaign to multiple factors, starting with the size of the trees – too small to survive outside a nursery – but also for the time chosen to sow them. “The best season to plant is fall. It could even have been done in the spring, but planting them in the summer was a sentence”, explains Benito. The lack of irrigation and the extreme heat recorded this summer gave the coup de grâce. “And, as if that weren’t enough, they have been planted less than a meter apart from each other. Even the ones that have survived, once they start to grow, they will end up with no space,” he adds.

The voices of indignation also came from the More Madrid bench. In a video shared on social networks, Rita Maestre, municipal spokesperson and possible party candidate for the next elections, denounces the state of abandonment of the plants. “Common sense and science say that trees and green make the city more habitable and help us fight climate change,” he recalls, before beginning to reproach the mayor for having spent “half a million euros to plant some trees that He has let himself die a few months later.”

The neighbors wait for the moment in which the City Council sows again with a mixture of hope and fear. “They are going to make the same mistakes again, the situation is not going to change at all. In a few months we will be back at the starting point, without vegetation and without money”, says Gómez.