Planting Trees: Save the Planet’s Forests

We are accustomed to perceive trees simply as a landscape. They do not move, their longevity creates a sense of permanence, they support complex biological communities.

Trees are a habitat for many creatures, but at the same time they are inhabitants – earthlings, whose ability to feel and respond to the world around them, we are only beginning to understand.

From a human point of view, trees provide invaluable ecosystem services: they purify the air we breathe, saturate the soil with organic matter, and provide us with building materials, fuel, food, medicine and textiles. They are also one of the most efficient ways to store water and carbon. They have other benefits as well: Seeing trees from a hospital window can speed up a patient’s recovery, and regular visits to the forest can help fight illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and anxiety.

Once upon a time, most of the territories of many countries were covered with forests, but centuries of deforestation have drastically reduced their area – a historical minimum was recorded after the First World War. Since then, coverage has increased: in Europe, forests, on average, cover up to 42% of the land, in Japan – 67%. In the UK, forest area is significantly less, at 13%, and despite government targets to increase forest cover, tree planting rates in the UK are declining, with planting efforts in 2016 being the lowest in 40 years and not offsetting the number of trees cut. The Woodland Trust, a charity, estimates that 15 to 20 million trees a year are needed in England alone to make up for losses and achieve moderate growth.

Planting trees is a responsible process. The type of planted tree species is important from the point of view of ecology and humans. Native species are of far greater value to wildlife, but other factors to consider include the expected size of mature trees and how they may be used later, such as shading city streets, forming hedges, or producing crops.

The best time to plant trees is autumn or winter so that the seedlings have a chance to develop a good root system before the start of the next growing season. This greatly increases their chances of survival.

When choosing trees to plant, it is best to avoid imported seedlings, and if you need to plant non-native species, buy seedlings grown domestically in reputable nurseries. Close attention to imports is necessary to prevent the spread of tree diseases.

Planting trees does not necessarily mean creating a whole forest. In recent years there has been a growing interest in street trees, forest pastures and community gardens. There are many benefits to planting fruit trees: not only do they provide a significant return on investment, but they also acquire so-called veteran properties, such as rotting holes in wood, much earlier than hardwoods. Dead wood is an important habitat for a host of other species, from fungi to nesting birds, from the myriad of invertebrates that live in decaying trunks and fallen trees, to the badgers and hedgehogs that eat them.

Planting trees is only half the battle, and preserving the trees we already have is now more important than ever. Growing a replacement for a mature tree is a matter of decades. Although lost trees are often old, at the community level, the loss of such trees can be deeply felt. Effective schemes to increase the visibility of planted trees so that they do not face threats of destruction at an early stage include tree care and mapping.

Acquaintance with individual trees in all their seasonal moods has a special effect on people. Try it and you – perhaps you will get a faithful and mysterious friend for years.

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