By Annette J Beveridge
Close your eyes for just a moment and try to imagine a landscape devoid of trees. Instead, where mighty trees once stood, now, just miles of concrete and endless new housing estates or roads. The vision is a bleak one. An increasing number of fields vital for agriculture or wildlife are being lost and mature woodlands are falling foul of the developers’ drive to build large, sprawling housing estates. While they may prosper, we must remember that this is in accordance with the UK Governments’ pledge to build 300,000 new houses each year.
Why should we care?
According to the WWF, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. For a nation of supposed nature lovers, what does it say about our way of life and that of our leaders?
One of the easiest ways of combatting the threat of the climate emergency is to have healthy, established woodlands. Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing in the earth’s atmosphere, but trees remove carbon and store it. Trees release oxygen into the air, and remove dust through air infiltration. They absorb nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. We know that trees are beneficial for our health and wellbeing and yet, mature woodlands are being lost. This loss is too substantial and too quick for any new tree plantations to replace them effectively.
A healthy planet
Aside from the aesthetics of a beautiful woodland scene, trees are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem. They absorb and store rainwater and reduce both runoff and sediment deposit. They refresh ground water supplies and the roots combat soil erosion too. Studies indicate that woodlands among other ecosystems could reduce carbon by one third and this would stop global warming from going over 2 °C.
Foliage acts as a giant parasol which limits a considerable percentage of radiation from the sun. Water evaporates from the leaves as the sun rays hit the foliage and the air cools as a result. Trees act as a natural flood defence too.
Native trees play a vital role in helping to sustain life and play host to complex microhabitats. They provide food and protection for birds, insects, fungi and lichen. As trees age, other species make use of the hollow trunks including Owls, Woodpeckers, Bats and beetles.
With ten years of growth, trees absorb approximately 60kg of carbon and one tree provides enough oxygen for four people.
The good news
As part of a ‘building back greener after the Covid-19 pandemic’ drive, 44,000 trees are to be planted in urban areas throughout Britain so to improve and support health and wellbeing and the Urban Tree Challenge is open for applications until July 25th 2021.
In May 2021, the UK Government also set targets for 7,000 hectares of woodlands to be planted before the end of May 2024. The England Trees Action Plan 2021-2024 is the UK Government’s vision for the treescape in England and this is to be achieved by 2050, and beyond. We should think of this as a framework only because it is action that speaks volumes and without definitive timescales, this may be a vision without substance.
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