Where would we be without trees? The simple answer is – we wouldn’t be here. They provide us with the oxygen we need to breathe and take in the carbon dioxide that we expel. If this wasn’t enough they offer us so much more besides.
So what do we need trees and forests for?
- Carbon storage
- Soil protection.
- Flood protection
- Medicine & health
Let’s explore some of these in more detail.
Across the world many people rely on wood as a source of fuel. It has been estimated that there are around 2.7 billion people in fact (mainly across Africa and southern Asia) who depend on wood or dried animal dung as a source of fuel for fires used for cooking. Add on to that there are believed to be 1.5 million households in the UK with wood burning stoves – and an additional 200k being sold each year … that’s a lot of wood needed for fuel. This demand for wood as a fuel source can lead to deforestation.
Carbon is part of life – as we breathe in oxygen so we breathe out carbon dioxide. Combine the carbon expelled from humans along with that from animals, transport, industry, plants, the oceans, fuel … it all needs to go somewhere. Whilst trees and plants emit carbon dioxide – they also absorb it (more than they emit). The more trees and plants there are … the better it is for climate change.
Water & flood defences
A growing tree will take water from the soil. This is why the planting of trees up stream can help mitigate against flooding further downstream. In addition to helping the tree grow and produce its fruits – the tree will also release that water back into the atmosphere in the form of water vapour. This vapour creates rain clouds which then release water back into the soil. In addition to trees being planted to mitigate against flooding – they are also planted to help combat drought.
Across the globe there is a worsening issue of soil degradation. It is reaching a tipping point and in some parts of the world there are believed to be less than 100 harvests left in the soil unless something is done about it. Woodland can help limit soil erosion and the spread of desert like conditions in the soil. This in turn will help combat threats to food security.
As we’ve already discussed – wood is used as fuel for the cooking of food across many parts of the world. The forest can also provide the food that’s being cooked. Whether from the fruits from the trees or the meat from the animals who call the forest their home – there are many cultures who rely on the food the forest can offer them.
Medicine & health
The power that trees and nature have to heal is nothing new – for millenia cultures and tribes from across the planet have utilised them for their healing properties. Go back to the pre industrialised world and you’d find that all native cultures had ceremonies, customs, rituals and medicines derived from nature, mainly from the forest. Even today – you’ll find in some cultures these practices are still used.
There are many medicines today that are derived from trees. Aspirin comes from the bark of the willow tree. Taxol, which is used to treat some cancers is derived from the yew tree. Quinine, the foundation of many antimalarial drugs, comes from the bark of the cinchona tree.
There have been countless studies carried out on the impact being in a forest environment (compared to an urban one) has on our health. One study carried out in 2005 demonstrated that it can help improve the immune system, another showed how it can reduce blood pressure and a third demonstrated the positive impact it has on cardiac and pulmonary function. When you look at these studies you can’t help but be impressed at the impact a simple walk through a wooded area can have on your physical health. It has a positive effect on your mental health too (you can read about that in our post on green spaces).
Around 70% of all the biodiversity on earth can be found in a forest. A single tree can be a habitat for hundreds, if not thousands, of other living beings from birds, insects, mammals, fungi, parasitic plants and even other trees. A tree continues to be a lifeline for others past its own lifetime. As a tree falls to the ground to decay – it remains a host to other organisms that both live within it or feed off it. I was once told there is no such thing as a dead tree – it will just metamorphosize into something else.
Trees really are remarkable – and critical to our survival. They’re one of the superheroes of the natural world.
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