Why the world’s tree planting plans must be about more than just battling climate change

Planting trees is good — but they have to be the right trees.

Big claims have been made about the idea of tackling climate change by planting trees. Across the world, people have pledged to plant billions of trees in hopes that they will suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and thereby counteract the damage that we’ve done to the environment.

The UK government has joined in, pledging to plant 30 million new trees each year — though that figure is dwarfed by the efforts which have taken place in Ethiopia. The country’s Nobel Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, put into motion a plan to plant 4 billion trees in the space of three months last year, including over 350 million in a single day. How close they got to that target is a matter of some debate, as is the ongoing health of those saplings, but their efforts must still be applauded.

As Britain’s tree planting plans push ahead, however, there are words of warning — specifically as regards what type of trees are actually plants, as this Country Mouse article from Country Life’s 4 March 2020 edition points out: 

Silence reigns as you walk through our manmade forests, which make up almost half the nation’s woodland.

The reason is simple: these woodlands consist of conifers, of which only three — the Scots pine, yew and juniper — are native to this country. The rest have been imported as quick-growing timber and many of our native animals have not been able to adapt to these new conditions.

Native deciduous trees, such as the oak, provide vast amounts of food, mainly by supporting insects for other wildlife — a mature oak tree is home to some 2,300 species of insect, fungi and other wildlife. Conifers support very little, with the exception of deer, which has meant the population of deer has exploded to an all-time high.

In a conifer wood, the flora of a woodland floor is restricted by the lack of light to only a few species of plant, such as ferns and bracken. None of this is good news for biodiversity.

2020 is the year of the tree and the Government has ambitious plans to plant millions of saplings — however, it is vital that the right mix is planted. These trees are our future weapons in fighting climate change and reducing flooding. We need more, but we need the right types — not all trees are equal.