So, why do we need trees? It’s a good question and perhaps not as obvious as you’d think. This guide will take you through some of the reasons why trees are so crucial for humans and the natural environment and how important they are to our everyday lives.
UK forests currently cover 12% of our land area. This is very low compared to some of our European neighbours. For example, France and Germany have forest cover of 29% and 32% respectively. Of Europe’s total land area, forest cover makes up 47% of that. The UK is seriously lagging behind and must improve.
Without further ado, let’s go through some of the reasons why we need trees.
Our earth has an amazing ability to maintain a natural balance and trees are a central component of this.. Trees are able to remove excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere and convert it into oxygen (O2) via a process called photosynthesis. They take in CO2 and water and when combined with suitable light conditions they produce glucose, and oxygen that is then released into the atmosphere. They are vital in ensuring that our atmosphere remains oxygen-rich
To combat climate change
Global warming is heavily linked to increasing levels of CO2. When CO2 builds up in the atmosphere it creates a ‘greenhouse effect’. This is where CO2 traps heat from the sun, creating a warmer climate.
The earth has always followed natural cycles of climate change, but we now know from geological records that increasing CO2 levels are the biggest influence. In this current period of climate change the main driver for increasing CO2 is human activity. As trees specialise in removing excess CO2 from our atmosphere there has never been a more important time to ensure that we plant more and protect what we have.
Trees are effective air filters. Some species, such as the London Plane, are particularly resistant to air pollution and can help filter harmful pollutants by trapping them on their leaves and bark. That’s why London Plane trees often line city streets across the world.
The benefits of trees and woods on our mental and physical health are well-documented. As well as improving air quality they provide a space for people to relax and exercise, which helps cast off mental fatigue and improve memory and cognitive function.
To provide for wildlife
Trees provide crucial habitat for much of the UK’s wildlife. Whether it’s for birds nesting in their canopies, small mammals making their homes in the root systems, or bats roosting in their trunks, they provide a whole host of opportunity.
Oak trees are one of the UK’s best known species. Their value for wildlife is huge – oaks have been found to support over 280 species of insects, which in turn provide food for many birds and other predators.
To shelter and shade
Whether it’s in the heat of summer or the frost of winter, trees provide vital shade and shelter for both humans and animals. When it’s hot, trees in our cities shade our streets and release water vapour into the air through their leaves. Farmers also recognise the importance of trees in keeping their livestock sheltered from cold, hot or windy conditions.
To prevent flooding
Trees have been shown to be useful as flood defences too. When situated near rivers and streams they massively reduce the amount of rainwater entering watercourses. In turn, this reduces the likeliness of rivers bursting their banks and flooding low-lying areas. Trees also provide the added benefit of preventing soil erosion and protecting our watercourses from harmful pollution in runoff.
It’s clear that trees provide wonderful benefits for both humans and the natural environment. Trees are the lungs of our cities. They’re the homes for our wildlife. They’re our guardians against flooding. Trees are vital to so many aspects of our life.
I work as part of the Trust’s campaigns team and every day we are fighting against new threats to ancient woodland or veteran trees. If we don’t start to better recognise and respect their role in our lives then we’ll end up losing them. Join our call to the government to strengthen policy for our ancient woods and trees, and help us fight against harmful developments.