By Catherine Barnard, World Land Trust CEO
The last couple of weeks of political headlines in the UK have seen something that I didn’t expect to see: a sudden competition between political parties in the UK over who will plant the most trees as part of their proposed solution to the climate crisis. There was even a television programme hosted by WLT Patron Chris Packham to raise funds to plant 100,000 trees in the UK. So why is there this sudden interest in tree planting?
Well, planting a tree is something that is highly tangible and visible, so can seem an easy solution to the climate crisis – trees grow and store carbon; problem solved. You can see therefore why politicians are tripping over themselves to seek headlines by planting trees. And more trees are clearly welcome, particularly in the UK which is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. So planting the right trees in the right place, and looking after them, in the UK is a hugely positive step. But is this the best way to address the climate emergency?
Whilst tree planting has its place, we mustn’t forget the importance of protecting natural habitats, and understand that you can’t replace the huge ecological complexity of natural habitats by planting a few trees. And of course, it’s not only forests. Mangroves, wetlands and grasslands all store carbon, and are important habitats in their own right. So shouldn’t we protect what we have first?
WLT recognises that natural habitats are essential to meeting global targets for climate and biodiversity. This is why we have always looked to first protect standing forests and other habitats. This is the best way to protect the nature based solutions that sustain us.
We supplement this with tree planting to support important habitats, through restoration of degraded areas within important sites, or adding area to and connecting existing reserves. This is where tree planting has a real role to play.
So WLT welcomes this political and media interest in nature based solutions to the climate crisis. But things are more complex than the headlines so we encourage everybody to protect what we have first, and then use tree planting to create bigger, more joined-up areas for nature and climate resilience. In simple terms it boils down to “protect the best, restore the rest”.
Today is also Black Friday. If you’re looking for gifts that don’t cost the Earth, WLT is offering a range of Christmas gifts and donation options.
Or perhaps this year we can do something different. Why don’t we combine these two interests into “Green Friday” where people don’t buy things they don’t need, and instead pay to plant a tree, or buy an acre instead. Or give back some of their savings to supporting tree planting or habitat conservation. Wouldn’t that be great!