old man planting an olive tree. Nablus Mountains, Palestine, Earth Day

All the right trees, in all the right places

In a bid to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere, it might make sense to just plant trees wherever seems feasible. However, this misses the bigger picture.

As we look for ways to offset our carbon emissions, there’s a solution staring us in the face, growing all around us. The trees that line our streets and populate our forests are a remarkably efficient store of carbon. That’s because, while human beings breathe oxygen and produce CO2 in large quantities, trees actually require CO2 to breathe, in order to grow.

As they grow, trees sequester carbon from the air, locking it away and helping keep the atmosphere in balance. The more trees we grow, the greater the amount of carbon we can trap. A large tree is estimated to sequester 48lbs of carbon during the average year, according to One Tree Planted.

However, if we want to make sure we don’t disrupt natural environments, it pays to plant intelligently – in short, it’s about planting the right trees in the right place.

Planting matters

Both governments and wealthy individuals seem to be doing all they can, to get on-board with the idea of large-scale tree-planting. Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong plans to help plant over one trillion trees through Terraformation, a company he created, after quitting the tech world.

The UK Government has been actively trying to boost tree-planting activities since 2019, through its £50 million Woodland Carbon Guarantee scheme. Under this project, farmers and landowners are incentivised to grow more trees and create fresh woodland, under the assurance of payment as the trees mature. As they do so, they help the UK get that bit closer to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

By supporting farmers and land managers who decide to invest in tree-planting, we are making sure we tackle climate change through nature-based solutions and – as part of our 25 Year Environment Plan – help leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

– Zac Goldsmith, Forestry and Climate Adaptation Minister

But such tree-planting efforts can’t just happen indiscriminately. Specific types of trees grow in certain parts of the world for a good reason – unless we pay attention to what nature intended, we risk disrupting delicate eco-systems.

Tree-planting gets bogged down

Case studies are always invaluable, to demonstrate how tree planting should and shouldn’t be done.
In December 2020, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) responded to a Channel 4 investigation over the planting of trees on peat bogs. Berrier End Farm was reportedly given permission to plant trees on 30 hectares of land, despite the Forestry Commission (FC) having failed to identity as many as 10 hectares of priority habitat existing within the confines of this area.

As a result, eight hectares of peat bogs were planted on, but the FC and the landowner have been forced to act, putting plans together in order to restore it back to its original state.

If you are in England, wishing to plant trees, planning permission isn’t required if the intended planting area is up to two hectares, in a ‘low-risk area’, according to the Woodland Trust – the Trust includes useful information, including a link to the Forestry Commission, allowing users to assess whether a specific plot of land is suitable for planting.

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