More Trees Please!
We Need More Trees
The natural world on which we rely is under threat like never before. The destruction of huge areas of natural habitats, coupled with the impacts of climate change and widespread pollution from the use of pesticides and herbicides poses an existential threat to our planet's ability to support life.
There is an urgent need to not only halt this catastrophic loss of nature, but also to reverse this loss by restoring lost ecosystems. Doubling tree cover in the UK would go a long way to restoring some of this damage. Not only would a widespread replanting programme improve biodiversity and air quality, but it is estimated that doubling the number of trees in the UK could deliver annual carbon sequestration of around 37-50 MtCO2e (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) per year, equivalent to around 10% of the UK’s current greenhouse gas emissions.
That would go a long way to meeting the government's target of being carbon neutral by 2050
The Benefits Trees Give Us
1. Trees clean the air
Trees are able to filter dangerous pollutants from the air using their leaves and bark. Trees can trap and remove pollutants, so reducing air pollution which is linked to premature death and respiratory disease.
2. Trees have health benefits
Naturally occurring compounds in trees have been used for centuries as natural medicines. Aspirin was originally derived from willow bark. Also, recent studies have indicated that spending time amoungst trees (so called "forest bathing" is good for our mental health and helps to reduce stress.
3. Trees clean water
When it rains, water runs off the land, collecting pollutants and transporting it to our rivers and streams. But trees help to stop this by intercepting the rainfall with their leaves, branches and trunk, allowing water to fall to the earth much more gently, reducing high levels of run off which cause pollutant wash out.
4. Trees reduce the risk of flooding
Tree roots bind soil in place so that the soil doesn't get washed away with heavy rainfall. The soil is then able to absorb water that would otherwise run off, effectively acting as a giant sponge helping to reduce the chances of flooding.
5. Trees improve biodiversity
Trees provide important habitats for birds, squirrels and hundreds of species of insects. Trees also provide leaf litter which feeds bacteria, fungi, insects, plants and animals. Leaf litter also decomposes and helps to create the soil in which we grow our food. Together, trees and the animals they support play a vital role in the ecosystems which support all life.
6. Trees provide us with food
Trees produce a huge variety of edible fruit and nuts, including almonds, apples, dates and pears.
7. Trees help to combat climate change
Trees absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide as they grow, helping to offset some of the human produced emissions from burning fossil fuels.
8. Trees improve our soil
Decaying leaves and bark, known as mulch, help to protect soil against water evaporation and drying out on hot days. This helps soil retain water, keeping it healthy for other plants and animals to grow in.
9. Trees can increase house prices
Home in tree-lined streets tend to have higher values. Trees add to the beauty of an area (think concrete versus trees) and can also help to keep an area cooler during heatwaves.
Additionally, trees help to screen out the noise of cars, trains etc., so reducing noise pollution.
You can download our handout which shows you all the reasons why we love trees and how you can help.
Where to plant all these new trees?
While woodland currently covers 13% of the UK, approximately 70% of the UK is farmland. It’s clear that if we’re going to double tree cover, some of this farmland will need to be converted into woodland.
However, this is only achievable if we eat less meat. This will have the effect of freeing up a lot of land that’s currently used for pasture, especially low-grade rough pasture and cropland that’s used for livestock feed. It's of little use growing trees on high quality land that is used for food production. This would only increase food imports and fuel habitat destruction in other parts of the world.
Ideally, trees would be planted on poorer quality land located close to urban centres to allow people to enjoy them.
Protecting our Trees
Trees in the urban environment are under constant pressure from developers who want to clear them to make room for new buildings.
If you know of a tree that is under threat, you can approach the local council and ask for a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). A TPO is a legal tool to prevent trees being damaged. A TPO makes it a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, wilfully damage or wilfully destroy protected trees without prior written consent from the local authority. It also creates a duty to replant a tree removed without consent.
A TPO can be used to protect any type of tree including privately owned trees if they provide public amenity benefits.
For more information, please see the Friends of this Earth Guide to Tree Preservation Orders.
How we can grow our own trees
It's best to collect and use locally collected seeds - acorns, beech "nuts", silver birch, sycamore, etc... If you can plant the seedlings in the same general area that the seeds were collected in, so much the better as this helps to keep everything local.
After collecting your tree seeds, store them in a cool fairly dry place (imagine the environment they would naturally exist in after being dispersed by a tree). Surface sow the seeds onto firmed, well drained compost which has been mixed with a little sand. Cover the top with 2mm vermiculite. Water as often as needed and keep everything at room temperature. Don’t allow the seeds to dry out or stand in water.
Germination will take between 30 - 90 days (so don’t give up). Once the seedlings have two true leaves, transplant them into the earth outdoors. You can either put them in your own garden, or donate them to friends, schools, parks and community centres.