Tree Planting vs Tree Sustainability

Tree Planting vs Tree Sustainability

Deforestation happens at a rate of 13 million hectares per year. Initiatives and campaigns have been put together all across the world to support replanting and looking after landscapes to reduce climate change and pollution. There have been some misconstructions about the benefits of the volume of planting and the estimates of carbon reduction. However, global tree cover has increased by 7% since 1982.

Whether it be for landscaping the back garden or an initiative from a larger company attempting to offset their emissions, tree planting is the planting of seedlings and is done for a variety of reasons. Rather than using seeds, seedlings have a much higher survival rate. We plant trees to replace ones we’ve used for manufacture, to increase oxygen purity, provide wildlife with it’s needed shelter and reduce the carbon emissions we have created. There’s a 50/50 split between oxygen production from trees and the ocean, just showing how important these plants are to us and our environment. Their importance doesn’t end with their oxygen production, they create 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and a single tree removes 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. This doesn’t include how they support the growth of plants around them including other species of themselves that are known to be crucial ingredients for western medicine.

Tree sustainability is the protection of trees to make sure they live their full life. This ensures that the removal of a tree is a last resort. It also applies to the planting of trees as many factors need to be considered for the best outcome and longest survival rate. This includes where it is to be planted, what the soil conditions are, what species is best suited to the location and what upkeep or care it will need. This type of planting increases the longevity of the tree and helps to support future generations. It’s also about educating ourselves about how to keep these plants healthy for our own well being.

Natural regeneration occurs in woodlands with a rich biodiversity. This is where seeds can fall from the trees and grow in situ where they belong. Trees, plants, fungus, wildlife, insects and other elements all contribute to creating a healthy and natural environment. These seedlings are much more robust than
using transplants however it comes with a certain amount of unpredictability. Most woodlands were ‘restocked’ by using transplants from nurseries up until the 80’s when a more natural approach was beginning to be taken. Studies continue to be taken from the forest floor to try and establish what makes this more beneficial to growing seedlings, however competition with other foliage and animals grazing make it difficult to create controlled studies. Other factors including weather and harvesting of other trees have to be taken into consideration, making these studies more complex.

Over the last decade, the concept of planting more trees as a quicker solution to reduce climate change has taken hold. Communities, collectives and companies have all started initiatives for planting trees to help the planet. Politicians have used the proposition of dramatically changing landscapes with tree plantation for the health of the world in general elections too.

Trillion Trees Campaign

Professor Wangari Maathai launched the Trillion Trees Campaign in 2006. The campaign was constructed when his corporation went to support the plantation of a million trees and it was mentioned that although a great initiative, it really needed to be a billion trees to make any difference. After planting billions of trees the campaign successfully created relationships between
individuals, businesses, governments and many others. They all share the desire to absorb more CO2, reduce soil erosion and maintain habitats for wildlife.


Bonn Challenge

The Bonn Challenge is an initiative driven by the Government in Germany and ICUN to restore 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2020. This is set to be 350 million hectares by 2030. Their goal is to return landscapes to their former glory where wildlife can thrive and humanity can build a healthy bond with nature once again, bringing regions and communities together.

The social implications of tree planting are equally as important as the campaigns themselves. Without the publicity and financial support of large organisations and government bodies it would be difficult to replant such large volumes of land. Communities conscious of the environmental impacts of humanity create the awareness that organisations have to listen to. By ignoring the repercussions of practices like manufacturing that cause deforestation and degradation of land, companies put themselves in a position where their consumer audience narrows as they’d prefer to support businesses that put environmental practices first, or are involved in initiatives like this to offset any unhealthy operations.

Rewilding is a similar campaign of regenerating landscapes but surrounding all elements of conservation. Across Europe, it involves changing the landscape back to how they were to allow nature to use it’s own mechanisms of survival to restore itself without the intervention of humanity. The natural processes that take place help to repair damaged ecosystems and degraded land include allowing plants to regenerate and reintroducing original species of animals and insects. The ecological role of animal species is crucial to thriving natural environments and in turn provides a better place for humanity. Rewilding initiatives promote our wellbeing to be an important factor in changing the landscape back to its original wild state. Not only creating spaces for the benefit of our future generations but creating areas that take back their wild state to be able to look after themselves.

All of these campaigns and many other initiatives that exist around the world are all in place to combat the effects of deforestation and degradation of our landscapes. Deforestation is the term used for the removal of large areas of forest. This can be to create agricultural space, logging for products or fuel sources, mining for specific compounds or even making room for urbanisation. The two main methods to do this is either clear-cutting or burning, both having their own polluting consequences. One other cause of deforestation is natural disasters. However, deforestation increases the risk of natural disasters as forests prevent drought and floods because of the way they hold natural groundwater resources. Forest degradation occurs because of climate change, disease, pests, land pollution, soil erosion and fragmentation. Many of these factors are natural occurrences but humanity is the cause of climate change and pollution. Air pollution deteriorates the forest cover, the change in average atmospheric temperature causes extended droughts and when the temperature drops, the cold periods make it difficult for the ecosystems to survive.

With all this in mind, planting more forests is now being considered to be doing more harm than good. The potential carbon absorption rate of the large scale projects could have been overestimated. The great financial advantage could be more beneficial to companies whilst some of these tree replanting campaigns could reduce biodiversity rather than help it thrive.
Timing is crucial to all of these initiatives. Planting can occur at a rapid rate with the right amount of workers, however upkeep is crucial in the first stages of their life to maximise the survival rate of seedlings.

It’s likely that ¼ of a plantation won’t survive these first stages. It also takes 20 - 30 years for these new trees to mature enough to be recycling the levels of carbon dioxide they were originally planted for. During this time the maintenance and upkeep of the plantation still needs work, including the thinning of the plantation to ensure most of the trees have the adequate space and resources to grow to their full potential. This means that although large numbers are being presented for campaigns, the actuality is that many of these won’t survive and therefore the carbon reduction is less than what is being estimated.

This is where initiatives like Rewilding, where conservation of landscapes and the sustainability of trees is prioritised, appears to be the better option. By protecting what already exists, aiding it to become better and regenerate on its own, the natural ecosystems and biodiversity thrive.

In 2015, it was reported that the earth had lost more than half its trees since humanity started cutting them down.

In 2018, the decline in tree cover was estimated at 72.6 million acres. At 50% more than in 2015.

However, a report in 2020 says there’s more trees on Earth today than in the last 35 years.

Man-made forests don’t substitute for the damage from deforestation and degradation. Ecosystems and the biodiversity found in natural forest habitats aren’t replaced by tree plantations. A loss of a million acres of natural forest can be offset by a million acres of man-made plantations, but the loss of biodiversity still remains. Many factors go into creating the best habitats and variation of tree species is crucuial. To try and reestablish a rich biodiversity, native tree species needed to be planted on degraded land rather than replacing ecosystems.

A balance needs to be created of new tree plantations and looking after the forests that already exist. Solely relying on new plantations won’t be able to remove the carbon that's estimated before they have time to mature fully. The campaigns and initiatives are having a positive impact and successfully creating awareness and engaging the public to do more about climate change.