Our Superhero Trees Helping Tackle Climate Change
Just 13% of the UK’s land area is covered by woodland and yet trees really can help fight against a changing climate. In order to achieve the Governments pledge to reach Carbon net-zero by 2050, it is thought that a further 1.5M hectares of woodland and forests need to be created, and more importantly, they need to be native and mixed-species to really maximise the carbon sequestration potential. In the UK alone that means increasing coverage to 19%.
So, what makes trees and woodland so special?
Forests act like massive carbon sinks, sucking in a staggering 400+ tonnes of Carbon per hectare. This process helps cleanse the air we breathe and offset global CO2 emissions. Forests absorb (sequester) carbon by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transforming it into biomass through the process of photosynthesis. Sequestered carbon accumulates in the form of biomass, deadwood, litter, and in forest soils and remains there until the tree or vegetation dies. Only at that point is CO2 released back into the atmosphere.
The image below courtesy of Carbon Brief indicates Carbon sequestration potential in woodland and illustrates how important the woodland environment really is when combating Climate Change.
[Diagram showing the average carbon stock (carbon stored per hectare) of different forest components, including trees (Tree_AGC), shrubs (Herb_AGC), deadwood (DW_C), leaf litter (Litterfall_C), roots (Root_C) and soil carbon (SOC). Grey boxes show the results for “carbon fluxes”, while white boxes show long-term carbon stocks. To the right, the total forest carbon stock (Total_C), above-ground carbon (AGC_total), ground carbon (GC_total) and below-ground ground (BGC_total) is indicated. A red arrow indicates that tree diversity has had a positive impact, while a blue indicates that forest age has had a positive impact.]
But Carbon sequestration is only part of the story.
Woodland creation can provide many co-benefits in addition to carbon sequestration. Improving air quality and providing wildlife habitat, timber and wood fuel, as well as sites for public recreation. In the right places, they reduce flooding and improve water quality. Canopy interception helps to slow down heavy rainfall, reducing the risk of flash flooding, whilst their deep root systems help to recharge underground aquifers which also bind the soil and prevent erosion.
Sadly, natural flood management accounts for less than 1% of the total UK flood defense budget, an issue that costs the Government £1Bn annually and affects 1 in 6 households. Much more needs to be done.
“Problems occur when land is overgrazed, rivers are straightened, and trees and other natural vegetation is removed” Rewilding Britain
Trees provide shade and through transpiration, help to cool cities by up to 5 degrees C. With more than half the world’s population already living in cities, a figure expected to increase to 66% by 2050, future city planners and architects need to increase green cover and vegetation within their plans as they look to reduce carbon emissions, avoid the urban heat island effect and provide more desirable and healthy places to live and work.
“The trees we plant now or the areas we pave now are going to be determining the temperatures of our cities in the next century.” − Climate News Network
Habitat loss is a major issue caused by vegetation removal and deforestation. The UK has lost 13% of its native species since the 1970s, a figure that can be reversed, however, with focussed woodland management and reforestation programs.
Trees and local woodland provide opportunities for community engagement, staff volunteering, education, and development, as well as rural business development and diversification. They offer recreational areas for families to explore, a haven to study wildlife and a place of tranquillity to switch off and improve your wellbeing. Forest bathing or shinrin-yoku is well-practiced by the Japanese and is claimed to help calm and connect you to nature on a deeper level, unplugging you from day to day stresses.
Trees really are our superheroes.
If you would like to read more about the Woodland Trusts Emergency Tree Plan – you can download a copy here
If you love your opera, you may just find this video a little too cute!!
‘Thinking Globally and Acting Locally’
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