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What is deforestation?

Deforestation is the act of converting a primary or secondary forest area for another use by cutting, burning or clearing existing trees and plants.

Deforestation is commonly used to create new space for agriculture, livestock grazing and urban development. It is also the after effect of logging activities. In many places around the world, particularly third world countries, deforestation is still legal.


Deforestation in Central Kalimantan in Indonesia. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why is deforestation bad?

Forests are one of nature’s most important ecosystems. They provide shelter and food not only for a diverse range of animal and plant life, but also for 1.6 billion humans. Beyond economic and food security, forests also serve as the lungs of the planet as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Aside from converting carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, forests also act as a carbon sink by storing carbon in dead trees, leaves and soil. Scientists estimate that as much as 18% of fossil fuel-emitted carbon dioxide are absorbed by forests annually.

Forests also serve as the anchor of ecosystems and play an important role in water and air circulation, precipitation, temperature control, and soil protection.

And yet, global forest area has gone down from six million hectares to about 3.9 million hectares today. Interestingly, 53% of the existing forest area is located in just five countries – Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States and China.

Deforestation in UK

UK currently has approximately 12 million square miles of wooded area, accounting for 12.9% of the country’s land surface; this is about a third of the average of European countries (38%). Most of the deforestation in UK, particularly England, occurred during World War I and II, where timber was used extensive in transportation, lodging and vessels. At its nadir in 1919, only 5% of the country was covered in wooded area. It was at this time that the Forestry Commission was created to manage forest areas, a vital national resource, in the country.

While the agency’s efforts have seen forest coverage growing to a record 12.9%, there are fears that forest growth has reached a peak. In 2016, activists voiced out concerns that only 700 hectares of new forest had been planted, well below the 5,000 hectares annual target. Similar concerns were voiced in 2018 as only 1,500 hectares of trees were planted, still far short of the target. Some believe that poor planting rates, as well as natural woodland losses, means the country is possibly under net deforestation.

Woodland Trust Tree Planting

What are the strategies to stop deforestation in UK?

The government has established a wide ranging strategy to stop deforestation in UK and increase the wooded area. The strategy, headed by Tree Champion, Sir William Worsley, includes:

• Driving forward planting rate

• Preventing unnecessary felling of trees

• Meeting the government’s target of planting 11 million trees

• Promoting existing woodland creation schemes to landowners

• Working with local government to enhance protection of ancient woodlands

• Raising awareness of impacts pests and diseases that could hinder forest growth

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