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Why the UK needs more trees and hedgerows, and how you can help to increase the cover

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Trees play a vital role in the natural environment and are critical to reducing the impact of climate change and for the survival of the human species and nearly all other life on earth, either directly or indirectly.

UK forests currently cover 12% of UK 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%. The UK is seriously lagging behind and we must improve this situation.

The key roles that trees play in the ecosystem and for the benefit of humans are as follows

1. Trees are critical in ensuring that our atmosphere remains oxygen-rich. They. remove excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from our atmosphere and convert it into oxygen (O2) via 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.

In this period of climate change driven by increasing CO2 from human activity, trees ability in removing excess CO2 gives them an important role to play in reducing climate change. So it essential that we protect the trees we have and as well as to plant more as rapidly as possible..

2. Trees can help filter harmful pollutants by trapping them on their leaves and bark and improve air quality.

3. Woodlands, large or small, provide a space for people to relax and exercise, and generally improve physical and mental health. Even the presence of street trees can improve the general mental outlook of residents

4. 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.

Woods and trees are home to more wildlife than any other landscape, providing homes for thousands of species including our most loved animals.

To shelter and shade, as well as to cool the air and provide rain

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 run-off.

Trees are vital

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.

Reproduced with the kind permission of The Woodland Trust

Author Jack Taylor, Lead campaigner - ancient woodland



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