Trees are incredible. They can live for thousands of years and grow hundreds of metres tall. There is not a species on the planet that doesn’t owe its existence to them. Forests are divided into three different layers: the forest floor, the understory and the canopy. The forest floor is comprised of soil, dead plants and animals and small plants such as grasses and wildflowers.
The understory contains small trees or bushes and is also called the shrub layer. The canopy is made up of the leaves and branches of the trees that dominate the forest.
When plants grow they sequester atmospheric carbon in their tissues via the process of photosynthesis. Because forests are full of large trees and other plants, they store massive amounts of carbon.
But when they are burned or chopped down, much of that carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide, methane, and other nitrogen oxides). The clearing and burning of tropical forests and peatlands accounts for about ten percent of greenhouse gases from human activities.
Therefore forest protection and restoration are critical to slowing climate change. By one estimate, published in 2015 in the scientific journal Nature, tropical forests alone could meet half the 2050 target for reducing carbon emissions.
But forests do much more than lock up carbon: they moderate local temperatures, play an important role in maintaining rainfall and weather patterns through transpiration, reduce erosion and run-off into rivers, stem drought and flood cycles, and provide critical habitat for millions of species.
- There is an ancient old growth forest bordering Poland called Białowieża Forest. It resembles what most of Europe looked like before the 14th century. This story of conservation has been well documented over the last 500 years and is almost as rich as the ecosystem the forest supports.
- One of the reasons your lungs feel refreshed when walking through a pine forest is because of an anti-inflammatory compound called a-Pinene, found in conifers.
- California uses inmates to fight forest fires. Prisoners take the jobs because it reduces their sentence, gets them outside, and pays better than typical prison jobs.
- Generally a forest is a large area of trees whose canopies cover at least 10 per cent of the sky. A wood’s canopy covers five-10 per cent of the sky.
- The Taiga region in the far north, covering much of Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia, is considered the world’s largest forest.
- Around one third of all the trees on earth are conifers in the Taiga.
- In the middle ages the word forest was used for an area of land set aside for royal hunting.
Forests cover about four billion hectares (16 million square miles).
– That represents about 30 percent of Earth’s land surface or eight percent of its total surface area.
-Ten countries hold about two-thirds the world’s forest cover, led by Russia (7.8 million square kilometers),
-Brazil (4.8m sq km), Canada (3.1m sq km),
– The United States (3m sq km),
-China (1.8m sq km) and
-Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.8m sq km).
The world’s forests are thought to house more than 50 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. The highest biodiversity ever recorded on land is in the Amazon rainforest, specifically the area where the Amazon meets the Andes mountains in Peru and Ecuador. Forests in Borneo, New Guinea, northwestern South America and Central America, and the Congo Basin are other hotbeds of species richness. Some of these forests may house more than 300 species of tree per hectare.
While most of the world’s attention is on forest loss, forests are recovering in some countries. For example, vast areas of forest have regrown in North America and Europe following centuries of destruction. More recently, countries like Costa Rica and New Zealand have reversed deforestation trends. And several nations, like China and Rwanda, are aggressively replanting forests to restore ecosystem function.
Despite the efforts of conservationists, the UK is one of the least wooded areas in Europe, with forest cover running at 8.4 per cent of total land area, compared to the EU average of 36 per cent. This isn’t a modern phenomenon. By 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, Britain’s forest cover had already been reduced to 15 per cent of land area, much of it cleared by Neolithic farmers using stone axes. However, this is no cause for modern complacency: almost half of Britain’s surviving ancient woodland has disappeared since 1945.
Each year we consume 50 million cubic metres of wood (enough to fill 25 O2 Arenas), of which 85 per cent is imported. The most forested country in Europe is Finland with trees covering over 70 per cent of the landmass. The least forested is Ireland at 7 per cent, although this has improved dramatically since the early 20th century when it had declined to 1 per cent.