THE PLIGHT OF ENGLISH WOODLANDS
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You wouldn’t think it could be true in an ‘enlightened’ society such as ours, but in recent years there's been a steep decline in the amount of land that supports our native British woodland.
In comparison to other European Nations – where natural forests cover on average 37.8% of the land mass - Great Britain is in a terrible state laggings way behind with forests covering just 11.8% of it land mass.
To make things worse, government funding reductions and a complicated England Woodland Creation Grant Scheme (EWGCS) have severely suppressed the UK new woodland market. This has caused a 40% reduction in new woodland plantings over the last five years in non-Forestry Commission woodlands.
Much has been said about the destruction of the worlds rainforests and rightly so, but that is no excuse to neglect our native eco-systems. There was a time when this country was almost saturated with ancient wood land – a complex system that takes thousands of years to mature. Even if land was put back to woodland today it would still take centuries before the full benefit of this returning environment is realised.
WHY REPLANT NATIVE WOODLAND
This is not just about creating a varied and thriving habitat for our native animal species - many of which are also in decline - there is also the greater issue of climate change. Large woodland areas can help reduce some of its effects by - for example - preventing flash flooding by reducing runoff into rivers, but it is the relationship that woodland has with carbon dioxide that is the real advantage. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases and a major factor in rising global temperatures. However, by re-establishing Britain's natural woodland, it's possible to combat climate change - in a significant way - on our very doorstep.
As part of the normal photosynthetic process, woodlands absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere and store it within its own growing vegetation. The more woodland we have, the more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere- it is a very simple equation. To give you one example of the amount of woodland required to offset human activity, the amount of carbon that is absorbed and retained by half a hectare of established woodland over approximately 10 years will compensate for the emissions made by one car during an average driver's lifetime. Re-establishing native woodlands really is everyone’s responsibility, unfortunately so few of us have the required land resources to begin with.
The eyes of the government are slowly being opened to this problem stating that it wanted to see 10,000 hectares of new woods planted each year to store carbon, as part of the Low Carbon Transition Plan. However with no money yet on the table, who is going to make this happen?
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Unfortunately, the majority of home owners in this country who are lucky enough to have gardens do not usually have enough room in them to safely accommodate even just the one native tree. Of course if you are one of the few who do have the space then you owe it to your children to plant as many different native tree and shrub species as you reasonably can.
But what about the vast majority of the population you do not live on private estates? Well, take a look around where you live and where you work. Are there areas of land local to you that have been left to waste that could benefit with the addition of a few trees? Ask your boss of you can plant saplings within the grounds of where you work. Approach your local cash-strapped council and ask if you can plant native trees into roundabouts and suitable verges. Write to your nearest National Trust or English heritage property - or even a local school or college - to see if you can help to replant there. The options are endless but it is all about making that first step. Or are you really prepared to trust the government with the future of your children, and your children’s children?
Please read Jo's additional comment further down, she makes a very valid point.
Percentage of woodland coverage comparison data taken from the Forestry Commission document 2006.
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