In recent years, we’ve been hearing more and more about woodland and sustainable forest management (thankfully!).
But which information is reliable and which is just a myth?
WOODLAND IS ALL ABOUT TIMBER
Nowadays, forests are essentially seen as the source of a single product: wood. However, our forests provide a multitude of other essential products such as food, medicines, craft materials, spices, resins, rubber, latex, and ... biodiversity.
If properly utilised, these resources (called non-wood forest products, or NWFPs for short) offer a powerful incentive to protect forests and an important source of income, especially in less developed countries.
MOST TREES ARE FELLED TO PRODUCE PAPER OR TIMBER
While the growing demand for timber poses a major threat to forests, the truth is that the biggest cause of deforestation is agriculture. This means that the food we eat directly contributes to deforestation. In tropical and subtropical countries, agriculture accounts for 73% of deforestation. Meat production has a particularly serious impact: not only does it involve large areas of grazing land, but it also requires vast spaces to be devoted to the production of soya, which is used to feed livestock.
FIRE IS THE ENEMY OF WOODLAND
Forest fires play a useful role in the life cycle of forests and the wider ecosystem associated with them. However, when these fires are particularly fierce and repeated over time, they can undermine a forest's natural regeneration. This is particularly dangerous in tropical ecosystems, where manmade fires, started mainly to reclaim land for cultivation, have devastating effects.
TREES GROW BY ONE RING A YEAR
Not exactly. For one thing, if a tree only produced one ring, how could we tell where last year’s ring ends and next year’s begins? In actual fact, trees in temperate countries technically produce two rings per year: a wider, lighter one that grows during spring and a narrower, darker one that is produced in autumn. This means we can see a clear colour separation and distinguish each year’s growth. In addition, this is not necessarily true at all latitudes: in tropical climates, for example, this seasonal alternation doesn’t occur and the rings are generally indistinguishable.
EUROPE’S WOODLAND BELONGS TO EVERYONE
Europe is actually split down the middle in this respect.
Approximately 53.5% of Europe’s forests are publicly owned and 46.5% are privately owned, and this figure varies considerably from country to country.
This variability makes it even more challenging to establish a shared forest management strategy.
EUROPE’S WOODLAND IS DISAPPEARING
The area covered by forests in Europe has increased by 193,000 km2 over the last 30 years. This change is the result of the sum of afforestation and natural forest expansion minus the effects of deforestation.
This is not only the case in Europe; the trend is positive in a number of other countries too. Among the most significant is China, with a net increase of 19,370 km2 per year, and Australia, with a net increase of 4,460 km2.
Of course, this doesn't apply everywhere: there are areas where the trend is unfortunately still negative, such as in Africa (with a net loss of 39,000 km2 per year) and South America (a loss of 26,000 km2 per year). In general, countries in the Global South are lagging behind in this respect.
EUROPE’S WOODLAND IS ALL NATURAL
Most of Europe’s forests (1,996,000 km2, about 94%) have been or still are influenced by human intervention and are defined as semi-natural.
Only 2.2% of forests (about 46,840 km2) have not been influenced by the presence of humans.
Although these natural forests only make up a small percentage of Europe’s forest cover, they have tremendous environmental value.
FORESTS PRODUCE MOST OF THE OXYGEN WE BREATHE
Not so. Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the ocean. The main process through which oxygen is produced there is photosynthesis, just as on land. One bacterium in particular – Prochlorococcus, one of the smallest photosynthesising organisms in the world – is responsible for more than 20% of the oxygen produced in the biosphere.
PLANTING IS GOOD, FELLING IS BAD
Wood is currently one of the few natural and sustainable alternatives to plastics and is an indispensable resource in many areas of industry and construction.
It is, however, important to understand how to use it responsibly, reducing waste as much as possible, felling only in harmony with natural rhythms, and encouraging species renewal – an approach known as “close-to-nature forestry”.
One example of sustainable forest management is that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit NGO that set up an international certification system to guarantee environmentally friendly management of the wood-paper supply chain.
At the same time, careful and detailed planning must be undertaken when planting trees in order to respect the natural equilibrium, avoid the introduction of non-indigenous species and ensure social and economic sustainability.
THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO TO SUPPORT OUR WOODLAND
Although it might seem like an insurmountable problem, there are many ways in which we can help protect woodland in our own small way.
Reducing waste, finding out how sustainable the products we use are, changing our eating habits and supporting the environmental initiatives we care about – these are just a few ideas.
Lots of little actions that can make a real difference if we all do them.
At Treedom, we decided to help protect woodland by doing what we do best: making the world greener.
Click here if you want to find out more!