In the UK, 40% of species have declined since 1970 according to the RSPB State of Nature Report. "the litany of causes includes habitat loss, modern farming methods, pollution, persecution and increasingly climate change."
Planting trees to create new habitat can help. It also has the benefit of removing CO2 from the atmosphere as the tree grows, which if done on a large enough scale could slow climate change.
Emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses leads to climate change in part due to the Greenhouse Effect. We know that humans have released CO2 into the atmosphere over the last 100 years at a rate never seen in 420,000 years on Earth because we can look at trapped air in ice cores such as the Vostock ice cores. See global temperature record. We also know that plants grow by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere (not from taking mass from the soil) so that growing trees can reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. See the work of van Helmont in the 1600s.
On 27th June 2019 the UK became the first major economy to pass a law for all greenhouse gas emissions to be net zero by 2050.
Some scientists think we only have 18 months to make a big difference though and 2050 might be too late.
In July 2019 we learned that tree planting 'has mind-blowing potential' to tackle climate crisis (related paper, cached).
The Committee on Climate Change has set a goal that the UK should have 1.5 billion new trees by 2050 to meet the net zero carbon target and funding is available for both rural (£6,800 per hectre) and urban (£10m fund, see press release) tree planting.
In November 2019 the Woodland Trust launched the Big Climate Fightback to ask 1 million people to pledge to plant a tree on the 30th November. Tree planting took place all over the UK, we participated in London.
We know large scale tree planting can be done because in Ethiopia, people planted 350 million trees in one day according to the government.
Our (very rudimentary) research from early Summer 2019 suggests that in the UK, whilst many people would like to be able to plant a tree, they don't have any suitable land. Planting a tree close to their property is a problem for many. When asked what they would do if given a tree sapling tomorrow, 85% said they'd give it to someone else to plant, usually referring to a parent or someone they knew with more land. The Woodland Trust are encouraging people without land to speak to their local council about tree planting opportunities in their area, or to ask them to host an event.
Tree planting simply as a way to absorb CO2 is also controvertial amongst some climate activists. They feel that planting trees simply allows people to carry on as usual without the radical change in behaviours that will have the larger impacts required. It has recently become a popular strategy with the right in the UK.
The RSPB has a Give Nature a Home campaign which encourages people to make a home for nature in their garden.
It seems to make sense to us that tree planting be done to help create habitat for wildlife where possible, rather that simply as a brute-force method for removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Planting trees for wildlife requires more thought than simply planting trees anywhere.
The challenge we've therefore identified is to try to find ways to allow people to strategically plant trees for wildlife on other people's land.
Download the Teratree Customers PDF for some initial thinking on ways this might be able to work.
Whilst there is lots of top-down thinking around tree planting, we're interested in how a participatory approach could foster wider awareness of habitat loss and climate change. After all, everyone will need to make changes if the situation is to improve and we feel that once people can particpate in solving the problem, they are likely to make other positive changes too. The value of the planting is therefore not just in the trees.
Key Questions We Have
Could we envisage a situation where Growers use space they have in a small garden to grow saplings to be planted by others? Could we set up an advice service about what to grow and how to get the seeds. Would we need to produce an app to match Growers with Planters to ensure the sapling was planted in the right place?
Could we provide an online platform that gives street-level maps where residents could become Suggesters and suggest the location of a new tree or set of trees, taking into account the soil type and any planning restrictions?
Would Public Sector Landowners listen to and act on the suggestions made? Could we ensure the suggestions were of high enough quality that they were useful and didn't distract from other important planting work being undertaken? Would Public Sector Landowners encourage individuals to become Planters plant trees directly? What oversight would this require? Or would they prefer to manage planting themselves or from a Commercial Planter? Do they have the budget for upkeep and maintence on the trees, or would other parties have to participate in this work?
Could it work better if the Landowner used the map to specify where they would be happy to have partocular species planted by members of the public?
Could the Suggesters suggest trees on private land too, and would Private Sector Landowners have different preferences to the Public Sector Landowners?
Would investors be willing to buy land specifically for tree planting by others, in the hope that wildlife would increase the value of the land?
Connected habitat is more valuable to wildlife, could we identify land of particular importance and target action there? Could changing the management of roads and railways contribute to creating a network for wildlife. Some research suggests this is already happening.
There are many other organisations doing brilliant work in this field.
Let us know of any you think we should add to the list!
- Bonn Challenge and the Trillion Trees Partnership between World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Birdlife International, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and convened by Restore our Planet
- http://www.nationalparkcity.london (including the charter of the backing foundation)
- https://www.drawdown.org/- A plan of how to tackle it, tree planting plays a role
- The Committee on Climate Change