Climate change is the biggest long-term threat faced by our natural environment and the benefits of trees and woodlands need to be harnessed to mitigate its effects.
The Woodland Trust conservation charity believes that planting native trees and woodland is the best and most natural way of reducing the atmospheric carbon that is causing the world’s temperature to rise.
Trees are important tools in the fight to stave off global warming. They absorb and store the key greenhouse gas emitted by our cars and power plants, carbon dioxide (CO2) before it has a chance to reach the upper atmosphere where it can traps heat around the Earth’s surface.
Woods and trees also provide an abundance of benefits for people and wildlife too; from reducing air pollution and preventing flooding, to providing wildlife corridors, shade and shelter for animals and livestock.
Sadly, huge numbers of trees have been lost across the country over the past couple of centuries as agriculture has become more intensive. Northern Ireland now has the lowest percentage of woodland cover in the whole of Europe at only eight per cent compared to 46 per cent across the rest of the continent.
Ian McCurley, director of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, states: “Northern Ireland’s landscape is incredibly unique, diverse and special and this is demonstrated by the huge growth in tourism and how our communities are utilising and benefitting from the outdoors, including woodlands.
“However, at present we have the lowest percentage of woodland cover in Europe and this must be addressed. We need to look at our land use, working towards integrating green infrastructure, such as woodlands, into agricultural practices.
“By increasing woodland cover we will not only see benefits like carbon capture and improved air quality, but more trees will also have a positive impact on farm businesses.
“The planting of native trees should be seen as an asset to the countryside and rural development.
“In addition to planting more trees, we also need to protect and enhance our ancient woodlands which are also under threat by climate change, development and lack of legislative protection.
“Ancient woodlands are reservoirs of cultural heritage and one of our richest wildlife habitats: once destroyed, they cannot be replaced.”
The trust believes that the best way to increase canopy cover is by using native tree species and through the creation of new woodland via natural regeneration wherever possible.
It is also vital that we see a substantial increase in farmland trees and hedgerows, to provide benefits to people and ecological connectivity.
Members of the public can play their part by planting native trees in their gardens and land, or getting involved in tree planting events in their local area. Look out for them during planting season, March and November, each year.
Schools, youth groups and community groups can also apply for a Woodland Trust free tree pack.
n Organisations are invited to apply for free trees for planting this November.