With thanks to Ed Love
by Andrea D. Steffen, Intelligent Living, January 21, 2021
Ecosystems have been growing themselves for hundreds of millions of years, and forests that plant themselves are better and most diverse. That’s why a group of environmental advocates in the UK from a charity called Rewilding Britain say we should let nature do its thing instead of manually mass-planting trees. Natural dispersal of seeds boosts biodiversity, costs a lot less, and may even sequester more carbon.
Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive, said:
People have this mindset that woodland expansion means planting trees, and that’s across the conservation sector as well. Nature is pretty good at doing this itself.
Natural regeneration brings multiple potential benefits – you get the right tree in the right place, you don’t get the potential carbon emissions you get with planting on peaty soils, and you boost the complexity of the ecosystem, which builds resilience. Natural regeneration also helps species to shift and adapt to climate change.
There’s growing evidence that it can sequester more carbon, although there isn’t a broad research base yet because natural regeneration is not on people’s radars.
The report they published on the subject argues that we should prime and protect land for normal growth first.
Humans should only plant trees if natural regeneration will take too long or is unlikely to succeed.
This sort of woodland regeneration should become the default way to restore Britain’s forest cover.
The report says:
Given sufficient seed sources and suitable site conditions, trees will plant themselves in their millions for free over as large an area of land as we are willing to spare.
Rewilding Britain hopes the government will heed what they’ve written and support natural solutions as it works towards increasing forest cover by 30,000 hectares (an area the size of Milton Keynes) annually by 2025.
It’s also collaborating with Friends of the Earth and other charities on campaigning to double Britain’s forest cover from the current 13%.
The UK has several tree-planting strategies planned to help meet its 30,000-hectare target. Almost £40 million was allocated to 68 projects to plant 800,000 trees. And a separate investment of £12.1 million went to planting ten community forests equaling 500 hectares of trees.
But Rewilding Britain wants a more hands-off approach, requesting that natural regeneration be incentivized in its rewilding policies. Wrigley argues:
We can’t replace our lost woodlands by planting alone. Protecting ancient woodland fragments, and allowing and assisting trees in regenerating on a big scale naturally, is the most effective way of reversing the sorry fortunes of our crippled forests and woodlands, and so benefiting people, nature and the climate.
Our ancient woodlands are only absent because we’ve destroyed them and continue to work hard to prevent their return through over-cutting, over-mowing, and over-grazing.
If we let them, millions of trees would plant themselves across most of Britain.
The Committee on Climate Change recommends that 1.5 billion trees be planted by 2050 to sequester carbon.
Meanwhile, the forestry minister Lord Goldsmith quoted research during a speech that suggests nature-based solutions could provide around 30% of the emissions reductions required to limit global heating to below 2 degrees Celsius.
Nature-based solutions include tree planting (human and natural) and soil regeneration. However, these techniques are currently only getting 3% of global climate finance.
The bottom line, turning the numbers into reality will require dedication, even if it’s just letting forests restore themselves. However, a balance of approaches will most likely be necessary.