Tree Survival Count Guidelines for TerraFund Projects

To fulfil TerraFund’s goal of catalyzing successful restoration projects across Africa, proper Forest Management Practices must be applied to ensure the growth and sustainability of planted seedlings. Funded projects must adhere to and use the following guidelines to count and record the survival of planted seedlings.

Objective: Support TerraFund restoration champions with simplified technical methods of counting the survival rate of planted tree seedlings to increase transparency and consistency across the portfolio.

Note: This policy applies to planted seedlings, not naturally regenerating trees.

Purpose of Survival Count

  • Survival count is: assessing the existence and growth performance of planted seedlings in the field. Trees are planted for numerous reasons (soil protection, restoration of degraded lands, climate regulation, logging for construction material, home usage as firewood, etc.). Whatever the reason for planting, site managers expect high survival rates to compensate for the significant investment made in planting.
    • Counting survival rate early in the project life cycle can help a restoration champion intervene if survival is low and achieve the desired size, density, and quality of planted seedlings. Trees can die because of the poor quality of seedlings planted, poor seedling handling, damage to seedlings during transport and lack of technical capacity.
    • Survival counting helps to identify factors that led to the death of seedlings and inform plans to either “beat up” failing areas or replace dead seedlings.
  • Different organizations or people carry out survival counting for different purposes. The purpose for TerraFund survival count is as follows:
    • To track the health and wellbeing of trees in a specific area over time and determine whether planting was successful.
    • To help TerraFund restoration champions determine whether replacement planting or “beating up” is necessary.
    • To give TerraFund project manager the opportunity to take a closer look at on-the-ground accomplishments to improve the quality of planting materials and other factors contributing to the survival of trees.
    • To provide feedback to the restoration champions for decision making on what and how to plant, including quality of seedlings, time of planting and planting technique.
    • To identify problems with different tree species or other factors related to tree planting to improve planting success and survival.

Survival Rate Thresholds

  • A survival counts above 80% indicates healthy performance of planted seedlings, and the project can focus on protection and other management operations to improve growth.
  • A survival below 80% informs that there is need for beating up or replacement of dead seedlings.
  • For TerraFund projects, the minimum acceptable survival count is 70%, due to the severe climatic conditions in some of the countries under the program.
    • A survival rate below 70% requires approval from the restoration champion’s assigned project manager.
  • Note: Survival and tree growth vary depending on tree species’ response to environment, light, rain, shade, and other factors. Thus, it is advised to conduct a thorough assessment of which species to select and where to plant them to maximize survival. 

Survival Count Procedure

When to conduct tree survival count

  • Because TerraFund finances champions in different countries and regions that experience seasons differently, all projects must conduct a survival count in advance of submitting either their July or January progress reports on TerraMatch.
    • If submitting in the July report, they should conduct the count between April and June.
    • If submitting in the January report, they should conduct the count between October and December.
  • While champions are required to conduct survival count once per year, they are strongly encouraged to count survival twice during the project’s first year, preferably at 3 months and then 6 months after planting seedlings.
    • Even more frequent counting, while not required for reporting, is highly encouraged by TerraFund’s technical staff throughout the lifetime of the project.

What to prepare

A project developer’s staff member who is assigned to conduct a survival count must prepare:

  • A recording tool: a recording form, a pen, or an electronic tool (phone, tablet, computer). Choose the appropriate tool according to the terrain's nature.
  • A rope or tape measure
  • Tree tags or markers (optional for individual tree identification).
  • Compass (optional for orientation).
  • Pruning shears or hatchet (for removing competing vegetation, if necessary).

How to conduct survival count

Survival is difficult to measure by simply looking at the planting site. It is not possible, or it is time consuming to see, assess and count every single seedling in a planting site. There are different methodologies for survival count.

Only visibly planted seedlings should be included in the survival count; mature trees on the site should not be counted.

  • Census: For a small area less than 0.5 hectares, the best way is a census count, where you count whether every planted seedling has survived.
  • Sampling: If your project area is too large to count all the planted seedlings individually (above 0.5 hectares), use a systematic sampling methodology to select the areas to conduct the count.
    • Divide the area into smaller plots or transects and sample representative sections of the site. Ensure that the sampling design is random or stratified to minimize bias.
      • Mark every sample plot with a visible marker, e.g., colored metal bar, to denote the area where you will count survival rate.
    • Ensure that sample plots selected are an accurate representation of the project’s target land use systems (separation of restoration intervention types), e.g., agroforest, natural forest, and planting arrangement e.g., planting with rows and without rows.
      • Ex: If the project is 80% agroforest and 20% natural forest, 80% of the sample plots should be in agroforest zones.
      • Ex: If 80% of a project’s area is planted in rows and 20% not planted in rows, 80% of the sample plots should be in areas planted in rows.
    • Read TerraFund’s recommendations for creating simple sample plots in each scenario below.

Method for Natural Forest, Riparian Area, Woodlot (Including Assisted Natural Regeneration)

  • Survival count for plantation with rows
    • For areas under 0.5 hectares, count all trees in the area (census).
    • For areas more than 0.5 hectares, sample every 10th row. Select randomly an edge to start from and count until the end of the row and repeat to every 10th row until you have covered the area.
    • Count each seedling, record the species, and note whether the seedling is alive, dead, or missing. Identify possible causes for death or damage.
  • Survival Count for plantation without rows (no defined layout)
    • For areas under 0.5 hectares, count all planted seedlings in the area (census).
    • For areas more than 0.5 hectares, count all the planted seedlings within randomly distributed circular sample plots.
      • If advice is needed to create sample plots, the TerraFund project manager can provide advice.
      • In total, these plots must contain at least 10% of planted seedlings in the area.
      • TerraFund recommend plots of 10m2 with a 3.14m length (but variation is possible).
    • Count each tree, record the species, and note whether the seedling is alive, dead, or missing. Identify possible causes for death or damage.

Method for Agroforestry (Simple Agroforestry, Silvopasture, Agrosilvopasture)

  • TerraFund champions are implementing agroforestry work with hundreds to thousands of farmers, making it impractical to visit every farmer and measure the survival of every tree.
  • In this case, the champion conducts survival counts on the land of a random sample of at least 30% of the beneficiaries where the project’s seedlings were planted.
    • We highly encourage champions to sample on the land of more than 30% of farmers, if desired.
    • Ex: If a champion engaged 100 farmers for this project, they count seedlings on 30 farmers’ land.
  • The champion can select farmers using any randomization technique that they see fit.
    • By individual farmer:
      • The champion can use a spreadsheet or paper record and list out the names of each farmer in alphabetical order, regardless of the number of trees they planted or hectares.
      • Then, the champion randomly selects every third farmer regardless of the number of seedlings they planted or hectares.
  • On each farmer’s land, count each tree, record the species, and note whether the seedling is alive, dead, or missing. Identify possible causes for death or damage.
    • For all further survival counts, the champion should revisit the same farmers to ensure that the data collected is comparable over time.
    • The survival count should be done per TerraMatch site in all TerraFund Projects.

How to calculate the survival count ratio

Survival rate is the percentage of living seedlings at the time of data collection, divided by the total number of seedlings planted.

SR = NLS / NTS * 100

Where: SR: Survival Rate; NLS: Number of Living Seedlings and NTS: Number of Total Planted Seedlings.

This figure is uploaded to TerraMatch as part of the six-month progress report, in addition to any supporting documentation that the champion used to arrive at this figure. Champions are highly encouraged to submit as much supporting documentation as possible.

Source: Survival Count Guideline, Regreening Africa, June 2020. Page 8; Measuring Survival and Planting Quality in New Pine Plantations Dr Andrew J.Londo & Dr stephen G. Dicke, Southern Regional Extension Forestry, January 2006. 


Tree planting involves considerable investments in money and time. In trying to achieve our target to restore degraded lands, we must always ensure our planting targets are achieved by going back to the fields we planted, assess the establishment and survival rates and make early adjustments to improve our plantation’s performance.


Template for Survival Rate Data Collection

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