If Trees are the Lungs of the Earth – Is Our Planet Out of Breath?

The photo above was taken on a woodland walk with our family during lockdown. We are sure that all of us have benefited from, enjoyed and hopefully learned to appreciate even more so nature in 2020.

Sir David Attenborough, the WWF, the UN and others have again recently highlighted the crucial role that trees play in our lives and that of our planet, and the importance of ‘rewilding’.

Globally, humans cut down 15 billion trees every year and only plant one third of that number. Over time, we have reduced the number of trees on our planet by a half. That’s a devastating loss of trillions of trees.

This year, we had to fell a tree in our garden for safety reasons. We felt so bad about this that we donated to the National Forest and have since added nine trees to our garden. Trees are precious.

We spoke to the Woodland Trust to find out more about why trees are often described as “the lungs of the Earth” and their pivotal role in helping to handle our country’s (and indeed our planet’s) growing Carbon output, while providing essential habitats for millions of animals and insects.

What are the Trust’s aims?
“Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK, with over 500,000 supporters. It cares for over 1,000 sites, covering over 22,500 hectares.

The Trust has three key aims: i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.”

What is the current situation in the UK?
“Provisional figures released by the Forestry Commission show that the amount of new woodland created in 2019 rose to 13,000 hectares, up from 9,000 the previous year across the UK. However, in England just 1,420 hectares of woodland was created against the Government’s target of 5,000 per year.

The percentage of woodland cover in the UK remains at 13% (10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland).

The Government has committed to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. The Climate Change report called for an increase in UK woodland cover to 17% by 2050. This would require a planting rate of 30,000 hectares a year until 2050.”

Why do we need trees?
“Capturing and storing carbon in the atmosphere is vital in the fight against climate change. Trees lock up carbon and create havens of green space for wildlife and people. The average UK individual is directly responsible for nine tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. 25 square metres of woodland is enough to store almost 1 tonne of carbon.”

Which tree is most commonly found in the UK?
“English oak is arguably the best known and loved of British native trees and the most common tree species in the UK. They also support more life than any other native tree.”

What are the threats and challenges?

“An increase in pests and diseases. Chalara ash dieback alone could claim millions of the UK’s Ash trees, while Oak trees are suffering from acute Oak decline. And of course, humans. More than 1,000 irreplaceable ancient woods have been threatened by development over the last 10 years. And there are weak levels of legislative protection for our most precious woods.”

What is the free tree scheme?
“Since 2010, 5.8 million free trees have been sent by the Woodland Trust to schools and community groups. Those who can apply include schools across the UK, nurseries, colleges, universities and outdoor learning centres And groups such as resident associations, sports clubs, parish councils, scouts, guides and many more. More information is available at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/free-trees.

The scheme is funded by Sainsbury’s, the People’s Postcode Lottery, Yorkshire Tea, Selfridges & Co and DEFRA.”

How you can help

In the lead up to the festive season, we are raising money to plant trees via the Woodland Trust. As you are sat enjoying your Christmas tree this year, you could have a smile on your face knowing that you have helped to plant trees allowing hundreds of animals, birds and insects to do the same. A donation of just £10 can pay for the Woodland Trust to plant 7 trees. So far, we have raised more than enough to plant an entire copse. To donate, please visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/plastic-free-home.

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.

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