Its national tree week! All week at school this week we had special lessons on trees. I found out that forty years ago (in 2016) forests were being cut down in lots of different countries around the world. I couldn’t believe it! And that tigers and elephants and lots of other forest animals were endangered. I’m so glad that we managed to stop that.
I love trees and really look forward to playing in the woods near our house at weekends. I can’t imagine a world where we might have lost them all.
My history teacher told us that a turning point as that in 2015 there were big agreements made in the UN to protect forests. Lots of governments promised to stop deforestation completely by 2020 in a long list of ‘global goals’. I can’t remember all of them, but one of the other goals was to make sure no one anywhere lived in poverty by 2030 – I guess we must have met that goal too because I was shocked to hear how some people in poorer parts of the world used to suffer from starvation or couldn’t go to school. (We’re going to learn more about that next term – but why did we wait until 2030 to stop that?)
It must have been so much work to deliver on those UN goals but I’m so glad we did. My teacher said that one of the big reasons people started really doing things about forests was to reduce climate change due to emissions of “greenhouse gases” from deforestation. Although most of those gas emissions came from burning fossil fuels, a lot also came from burning or cutting down forests. (I also couldn’t believe people used to put oil in their cars! The air must have been so dirty.)
I’ve read a lot about how climate change is affecting us now, but it’s scary to think how much worse it could have been. My science teacher told me one of the reasons we have a stable climate now is not only because we stopped cutting down trees but we also started re-growing lots of them all over the world. Scientists think that about 10,000 years ago there were about six trillion trees in the world! Apparently when you were younger there was only about three trillion and 10 billion fewer each year. Now we are counting up towards four trillion!
In home economics class, I learned that one of the big breakthroughs seems to have been the change in diet everyone made and discovering a new way of growing enough protein for everyone. This was important because most deforestation happened for farm land. We used to eat much more meat and that needed lots of land, so forests were cleared for farms. At school we eat lots of different kinds of protein now and more plants. Farmed animals around the world are also fed something more environmentally friendly than they were in your day. And lots of food companies that used things like palm oil and soy in bread or ice cream or whatever, really cleaned up their act.
The other big thing that helped was stopping illegal wood and paper being sold and used. People weren’t even recycling all their paper back then either! Why was illegal logging even happening in the first place? Why didn’t people stop that sooner? I didn’t understand that. But my history teacher said that in some countries there was a lot of poverty or there were difficulties enforcing laws in remote places. It took some new laws and lots of fair trade deals between countries to eventually solve the problem.
In Geography I even heard that at the same time as those global agreements were made, in Britain there were more trees being cut down than planted – even though we had much less forest than we used to. The UK used to be three quarters forest a few hundred years ago! Thank fully we protected and expanded some of our forests again. Things changed when lots of people signed up to a ‘Charter for Trees, Woods and People’ in 2017. The teacher said that numbers of red squirrel and pine marten are much higher now, deer numbers are lower, and there weren’t any Lynx at all in the UK 40 years ago! The woods must have been almost empty then.
Also, the UK Government decided to make it easier to get grants and permission to plant trees. This sounded really important because the UK had just decided to leave a treaty with lots of other European countries at the time. Apparently this treaty – the European Union – had lots of laws and paid farmers money to use their land in a certain way. Anyway, once we left that treaty no one was sure what would happen and in the end some money was given to farmers to convert areas up on hills or close to rivers to plant new woods, while other areas kept producing food. I looked up the woods near us and apparently it was one of those new ones that used to be farmland!
I learned about the amazing Amazon in science class too, and about Orang-utans and their forests in Borneo. With all the medicines we got from these forests over the last 40 years, we’re so lucky that these areas were protected. And Brazil and Indonesia have just been ranked as two of the best places to live in the world according to a new survey. Mum said that if we can save the carbon, we can go on holiday to one of them next year!
Anyway, I wanted to write and say thanks for doing what you and everyone in your generation did to help save our trees and forests. Life wouldn’t be the same without them.
This is the kind of future I want to be part of and the kind of letter I hope to receive someday. What about you? You can help #SaveForests too, starting this National Tree Week. Find out about a sustainable healthy diet, buying wood products, the global goals, the UK Charter for Trees, Woods and People and more on WWF-UK’s work on forests.