Does planting trees help climate change? It’s a question you might righly ask when you hear reports of deforestation in the Amazon, or woodlands in the UK being felled for new housing developments. Not only does cutting down trees affect natural habitats and wildlife, but it’s having an adverse impact on global climate.
Planting trees has therefore become a symbol of the movement to help prevent climate change. But trees are much more than that. They are one of the world’s most valuable resources – both economically and environmentally. Understanding why trees are important can help us appreciate them more, maintain the areas of wild forest that need protecting, and plan for sustainable tree growing industries that provide a renewable resource for the world.
After all, millions of people across the world work with trees. Cutting them down will eventually lead to those jobs being lost. But implementing sustainable development projects that regrow woodlands can benefit us all in the long run.
So, why are trees good for the environment? Read on to find out more…
Importance of trees
Trees are often an overlooked part of the landscape. They help ecosystems around the world maintain and replenish themselves – whether it be a lone tree in a field, or a vast rainforest. They clean the air, enrich the soil and shelter the animals that call trees their home. They provide structure for other plants to grow, shade for fungi to flourish, and an anchor that holds topsoil together.
There are approximately three billion trees on the planet, around 12% of which are in the Amazon rainforest. Without them, CO2 levels in the atmosphere would rise to unliveable proportions, ecosystems and food chains would collapse, and the world would become a desolate place.
Here’s how trees help us every day…
Trees help the environment
There are few more environmentally important resources in the world than trees. That’s because they take in carbon dioxide from the air, turn it into glucose to grow, and pump out oxygen in return. It’s no wonder the Amazon is called the “lungs of the world” as trees quite literally feed oxygen back into the ecosystem.
That’s why, when felling and burning trees, there is a doubly damaging effect on the environment. Not only does the burning process pump tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, there’s also one less tree to absorb it back.
Issues around deforestation for animal ecosystems are well documented. Here in the UK, we have degraded our environment so heavily over the centuries that there is now no turning back. We’ve lost numerous species of wildlife – both animals and fauna – by clearing woodland and natural meadows for towns, cities, airports and golf courses.
Reforestation efforts do have benefits, even if we cannot return the UK to its former state. In Scotland, plans to cover 21% of the countryside with woodland by 2032 would result in:
- Richer, more diverse habitats for wildlife
- Enhanced landscapes
- Carbon sequestration and storage (reducing CO2 in the environment)
- Cleaner water and mitigation of diffuse agricultural pollution
What’s more, the human economic benefits of more trees include:
- A source of sustainable fuel
- Reducing flood risks
- Secure jobs
- Increased tourism
Trees improve physical health
Our physical health is greatly affected by pollution. Even if you don’t live in a city or town, air pollution is a growing issue the country is facing. It affects our lungs, our immune system and many other aspects of physical health.
But through photosynthesis trees help absorb some of those pollutants. They can revitalise urban streets, capture CO2 from motorways and provide shade during the summer months for pedestrians.
What’s more, trees are a free ticket to be active. We all need to take good care of our bodies and one of the best ways to do that is to get out into nature. Whether it’s walking and running, or perhaps cycling or rock climbing, being in nature is one of the best – and free! – ways to improve our strength, flexibility and heart health.
And woodland is an adventure playground for all of us. There are more than 140,000 footpaths in England and Wales alone, and many of these run either belong or through woodland.
Trees help mental wellbeing
Being at one with nature isn’t all about meditating on a fallen tree trunk (although we would recommend it!). Simply walking through woodland and enjoying the peace and stillness of your surroundings can help relax and revitalise the mind.
Many people find relaxation in walking or running, while others enjoy sitting and watching the natural world go by. Bird watching and wildlife spotting is a great way to escape the business of everyday life and witness nature growing in front of our eyes.
In fact, there are therapeutic benefits of bird watching and other nature-based activities, which go beyond peace and quiet. Trees can help you find your equilibrium, expand your physical and mental horizons, and feel at one with the world.
How does planting trees reduce climate change?
Explaining the benefits of trees to the world and to human beings is our roundabout way of highlighting the need to plant more trees. Trees help reduce climate change thanks to photosynthesis. This is when trees carbon capture through their leaves and roots, and convert it with water into glucose for energy. The byproduct is oxygen, which trees then pump out back into the world.
Planting more trees, therefore, not only helps absorb more CO2 that is causing climate change, but also releases more oxygen into the atmosphere.
Now, planting a tree is not as beneficial as saving a tree. In an ideal world we wouldn’t fell trees, clear woodland or slash down the rainforests unless there was a sustainable plan in place to replenish the lost acres. After all, when an area of forest is cut down, the soil system loses its ability to hold on to nutrients because the roots rot away. In the worst circumstances in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, deforestation can lead to desertification within a few years. And once land is desertified there’s no going back.
Many countries do partake in sustainable forestation, where woodland is managed and regrown once an area has been cleared for timber. Appreciating and understanding the value of trees as a renewable resource that also helps the planet is something industry is only now becoming fully aware of.
What can be done to help?
The logging industry is guilty of slashing millions of acres of forestland around the world, and not replenishing it. But shoppers in the UK are equally as culpable of providing those industries with demand. Being more ecologically conscious doesn’t mean not using timber for furniture or build development. It simply means being conscious of where your timber comes from.
Like Fair Trade food, knowing the source of wood – and whether it’s from a sustainable industry – helps us make smarter choices. Some companies, such as Homebase, have a timber policy that outlines where its timber is sourced from.
Replenishing nature isn’t hard, it just needs a collective effort to work. That’s why take good care contributes to One Tree Planted. They’re a nonprofit organisation that plants trees around the world, using donations from across the planet.
Every time you buy from take good care we make a donation, it’s how we give back. After all, with carbon capture trees are helping to reverse climate change.
Other ways to help out with reforestation is to use sustainable homeware that is sourced from renewable sources, and enjoy books rather than picking up an electronic e-reader that cannot be easily recycled.
What does the future look like for forests?
There was a time in Britain when a squirrel could supposedly walk from Lands End to John o’ Groats without touching the floor, due to the amount of trees found on these isles. Exactly why a squirrel would do this, we’re not sure, but the sentiment is clear: Britain used to be a forest island.
Farming, housing, roads and recreational activities have cut the links between the great forests of our country. Thankfully national parks still exist, and there are sustainable forestry initiatives across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We’ll never get back the old forests but there is a growing effort to create new, vibrant and exciting wooded areas across the country. This should replenish wildlife, create new ecosystems and provide people with further areas of beauty to unwind and improve their mental wellbeing. But it requires us all to pull together in unison and help every planting trees charity.