Deforestation. A term guaranteed to get you welling up at the thought of homeless orangutans and tigers with nowhere left to roam, or the palm oil advert that made you shed a tear that one time. Of course, these crucial issues and majestic creatures deserve our utmost conservation efforts. But let’s “deforest” the issue and take a look at what this term means for our British wildlife.
Deforestation is the overall loss of areas of woodland. Large areas of forest are cleared at astonishing rates in the Amazon and Indonesia, largely to make way for plantations for the likes of coffee and palm oil. In addition, cattle ranches account for a whopping percentage of forest clearance to feed the worlds insatiable appetite for beef. Illegal logging and fires also play a part in in habitat demise.
But what is the story in the UK? Largely due to development (where haven’t you seen a brand-new housing estate pop up in the past few years?), at least 800 woodland areas are under threat and the rate of newly planted woodlands is at a serious low. Our woodlands come further under attack from invasive species and disease, and unproductive, intensive agriculture systems.
When we consider that areas of forest the size of the UK are cleared each year, it is obvious that we don’t have much valuable environment left to play with… or deplete.
But why are woodlands so important?
They provide an important habitat for so many British species. Bats, deer, mice, badgers are just a few mammals using woodlands. Reptiles, birds, and all kinds of invertebrates are also key woodland inhabitants. Losing woodland areas, not only risks the survival of individual species but throws complex ecosystem processes out of sync, having detrimental knock on wildlife as a whole.
They help to fight the impacts of climate change. If left undisturbed, forests play an invaluable role in the soaking up and storage of carbon. When trees are cut down, this carbon is released into the atmosphere.
They reduce flood risk and soil erosion. Trees and shrubs intercept and soak up rainfall, almost acting as a buffer to water running off into rivers and streams. Forests are weather-controllers in their own right. Trees and vegetation circulate water vapour creating clouds and rain. Forest removal can lead to land degradation and desertification. Worldwide examples of this are already being seen.
And if that’s not convincing enough:
Mental health improvements from spending time in nature are profound. Daily contact with nature can reduce stress levels, improve concentration, and help with depression and anxiety. And we love our woodlands…don’t we?
In the UK, according to a 2019 Forestry Commission report:
95% of people in the UK agreed that forests and woodlands are important places for wildlife.
88% of people in the UK agreed a lot more trees should be planted.
According to the WWF, forests account for 31% of land area in the world, yet an estimated 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest are lost every day. Not only do forests provide jobs, purify water and air, they help people to survive.
Of the world’s land-based species, 80% live in forests. The wonderful species of our planet rely on forests. It is time we stop failing our woodlands. Get involved, get planting, When we care for and protect our immediate surroundings, we are surely setting the stage for a new worldwide attitude to take place?