Forests are critical for the health of both people and planet – here’s how you can do your bit to look after them.
International Day of Forests falls on 21st March this year, a United Nations-supported event designed to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests around the world.
When we write in a notebook, take medicine for a fever or build a house, we do not always make the connection with forests. And yet, these and many other aspects of our lives are linked to forests in one way or another, and around 1.6 billion people depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, medicines and income.
Sustainable forest management and the use of resources are key to combating climate change, and to contributing to the prosperity and wellbeing of current and future generations. Forests play a crucial role in poverty alleviation and in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and growing trees, via the process of photosynthesis, act as valuable carbon sink for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate.
The world is losing 10 million hectares of forest each year – about the size of Iceland – which accounts for 12-20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. According to Friends of the Earth, in the UK alone we need to at least double the amount of forest cover to best protect our environment and achieve net zero emissions, as well as preserve vital ecosystems and the soil stability that mitigates the worst impacts of flooding.
Here’s how you can play your part in protecting our important forests so that they can survive and thrive for us and for future generations.
- Recycle and choose recycled
Huge swathes of forest are cut down every year to make paper products. When you use paper, choose recycled, and make sure that you recycle it once you’re done with it.
- Go digital with bills
There’s really no need to receive paper bills these days – not when all of our accounts are managed online anyway. Search around your bank or utility provider’s website for the option to go paperless.
- Avoid disposable paper products
Try to avoid disposable paper products altogether. Items like kitchen roll and paper plates require large volumes of natural resources to make – not just paper – only for them to end up in the bin. Worst of all, because these items are usually contaminated with food or liquids, they can’t be recycled. Choose reusable alternatives.
- Buy forest-friendly, certified products
Use your purchasing power to support forests. Try to avoid beef, soy and uncertified palm oil that comes from the tropics, and look for certifications from the Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil when you shop (read about the problem with palm oil here). When buying timber products look for the FSC logo that ensures the wood is from forests that are managed sustainably. Wood products often have a lower carbon footprint than man made materials such as aluminium or steel so they are an environmentally friendly choice when bought from ‘safe’ suppliers.
- Support forest conservation programmes and organisations
In the absence of effective and environmentally-friendly governance in many areas, organisations such as The Woodland Trust, Royal Forestry Society, Trees for Life and We Forest provide important organisational and financial support for conservation efforts. Consider making a donation to help support their work.
- Teach kids about the importance of forests
If children are the future, then it’s important to instil in them a deep-seated love and respect for their natural environment so that they grow up to make good choices, too. One of the best ways to do this is to visit a woodland for some forest bathing – literally being by trees.
- Enjoy forests responsibly
Forests bring many benefits, not least the opportunity to escape into nature and unwind. A picnic with friends or long walk by yourself can have many soothing effects on your mind and body. So treat forests with the reverence they deserve – this means respecting signage, taking litter home with you, and not using disposable BBQs as they are a major cause of wildfires.
The bottom line
Forests are crucial to the health and wellbeing of the planet – our one home. Everyone needs to take steps to give them the support and protection they need, so that we can continue to enjoy forests – and the many benefits they bring – for generations to come.
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