The steadily increasing demand for wood as a building material or source of paper and pulp has lead to a drastic reduction of the Earth’s forest cover. Forests carry out essential ecosystem services for the planet. While being home to a vast biodiversity, they also regulate the global climate. Deforestation has negative effects on biodiversity, climate, and the water cycle. It negatively affects agriculture and leads to increased soil erosion. The United Nations estimate that about 13 million hectares of forests are cut down by humans. This is equivalent to the size of Greece. At the same time, however, new forests are being planted, so that the net loss of global forests cover is about 8,9 million hectares annually1.
However, not every act of afforestation is necessarily a positive one. Large scale timber plantations, for example, with one highly dominant tree species, like eucalyptus, are often rather damaging to the environment than beneficial, as they destroy the ecosystem balance. Hardly any biodiversity can be found in these areas, and instead of bringing the water cycle into a balance, the area dries out.
The Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado was devastated when he saw how his homeland has changed throughout his life. The once dense tropical rainforest (Mata Atlantica) he grew up in, has developed into a desert with most animals having left the area. Salgado founded the NGO Instituto Terra, with the aim to replant the entire forest. While this sounds like an impossible idea, within 15 years, over 1 million trees have been planted and the animals are back – even the leopards!
On the other side of the world, the award-winning “forest man of India”, Jadav Payeng, has spent 40 years on replanting a forest on Majuli island. Today, there are elephants, rhinos, tigers, deers and vultures to be found in his 550 hectares big forest. His vision is to stop the erosion of his home island by planting more and more trees and at the same time offer economic advantages by developing a coconut industry.
What can you do:
You do not have to think in these huge dimensions to make change. The engineer Shubhendu Sharma founded the company Afforestt which focuses on creating multilayer forests on urban fallow lands. On a parking lot for six cars, Sharma claims to be able to create a highly biodiverse multistorage forest with 300 trees. He developed a methodology to assess exactly which trees should be planted on which soils and offers remote soil testing to provide a growing plan for any fallow land anywhere in the world.
For planting a forest, you can fertilize the soil with locally produced organic waste material – like coconut shells, sawdust or litter. Anywhere where there is a small piece of empty land – a backyard, slope, unused parking lot – a small forest can grow. Before you start planting, it is of course necessary to ask the owner of the piece of land (which is often the city administration) for permission. There are some NGOs like Plant for the Planet which plant trees for you for just a small donation.
The easiest method for doing it yourself is to use seedbombs. These small bags filled with a seed mix can be thrown basically anywhere and also increase urban biodiversity, when the right mix is used.
These actions can increase the urban biodiversity, improve air and water quality, and in some cases even provide food items growing in the small forest.
You just have to check which tree species naturally originate from your region. Then pick several species which all have different heights when fully grown. In this way, you can plant your own multistorage forest and do your part to protect the climate and make cities greener and cleaner.
Further information to be found under:
Picture with courtesy of Sole Perez