Trees…They’re Good!

“Trees exhale for us so that we can inhale them to stay alive. Can we ever forget that? Let us love trees with every breath we take until we perish.” (Munia Khan, Poet & Author)

One of the perhaps unsurprising benefits of the lockdown in many countries linked to the global coronavirus outbreak has been for our environment. As more and more people have stayed at home in order to protect themselves and their communities from the spread of the virus, the planet’s environment has breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Fossil fuel emissions have plummeted and air quality has improved significantly. It only takes a few weeks of stopping our destruction of the environment and we can see how that same environment bounces back remarkably quickly. And nature’s advance is led by the trees

According to the Climate Group, working from home alone has the potential to remove over 300 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year[1]. This is wonderful but a mature tree can also remove 22kg of carbon dioxide a year. Even a relatively small forest such as the New Forest in Southern England having at least 1,000 mature trees, would remove almost 22 tonnes per year. Trees really are the lungs of the planet, allowing humanity to breath.

But trees provide so much more for us and our planet than even the awesome facts of air quality and climate improvement. US-based non-profit organisation, One Tree Planted, list five further benefits trees bring to us[2]. Trees also help us by capturing rainwater thus reducing the risk of natural disasters like floods and landslides and their roots filter the rainwater too, removing pollutants and slowing down the water’s absorption into the ground, reducing erosion.

They are also home to the planet’s rich biodiversity, with 80% of the world’s land-based plants and animals living in forests. It is incredible to think that so many creatures rely on trees for the very existence and it is widely known that for many of the species, subtle changes to their habitats could lead to their extinction.

Trees, however, also provide a direct benefit to us as people with over 1.6 billion people relying on forests for their livelihoods. Sustainable tree farming provides benefits to both people and the planet, along with trees whose fruit, nuts, berries and leaves can be consumed by people or can be transformed into medicines to provide healing to countless millions. Without the nutrition provided by trees and the employment that this brings, many parts of the world would be even poorer.

The final benefit outlined, and the one I want to focus on, is the social benefit to each and every one of us. Research in the journal Science showed that post-operative patients with a view of a natural scene with trees in it recovered more quickly and had fewer problems in recovery than those who faced a brick building wall[3]. This should not be surprising as anyone who has sat in the shade of a tree in a park or walked through a forest glade can attest to, trees have a power to help us relax, reflect and be renewed by their very existence. A 2018 report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health[4]outlined a study undertaken in Japan on the psychological impact of walking through forest areas showed a decrease in negative moods such as ‘depression,’ ‘anxiety,’ anger-hostility,’ ‘fatigue’ and ‘confusion’ and an increase in positive moods such as ‘vigour’ compared with walking through city areas. The authors write, “the psychological benefits of walking through forests are very significant, and forest environments are expected to have very important roles in promoting mental health in the future.”[5] For many, the impact of a lack of nature has led to an affliction which some have called ‘nature deficit disorder’[6] along with the creation of a new pastime, ‘forest bathing.’ Forest bathing began in Japan, where it is known as shinrin-yoku, and it involves “slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.”[7] Dr Qing Li, head of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and author of a book on Forest Bathing states, “wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier.”[8] American biologist E.O. Wilson noted that humans are ‘hardwired’ to connect with the natural world.

Gradually, governments are gearing themselves up to recognise all of the benefits of trees in our environment. In March 2020, the Welsh Government committed to creating a National Forest for Wales that will run the length and breadth of the country. Responding to the plan for the National Forest, Mary Gagen, professor of geography at Swansea University explained, “We need to get trees in the ground now. Trees are a brilliant multi-tasker, good for the environment, good for habitats, good for us.”[9]

So, it is really important for us to defend trees and forest and to ensure that they are not just there for future generations but for our benefit now. More selfishly, we need to ensure forest and trees are there for our own wellbeing and enjoyment, to look at currently, but equally to walk through and even, perhaps, to bathe in.

[1] Tobé, W. 2016. The Climate Group Website. [Online]. [24 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.theclimategroup.org/news/how-working-home-can-lower-global-emissions-walter-tobé-canon

[2] One Tree Planted. c2020. The One Tree Planted Website. [Online]. [24 March 2020]. Available from: https://onetreeplanted.org/pages/why-trees

[3] Ulrich, R.S. 1984. View Through A Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery. Science. 224(4647), pp. 420-421.

[4] Song et al.. 2018. Psychological Benefits Of Walking Through Forest Areas. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health. 15(2804), pp.

[5] Ibid

[6] Evans, K. 2018. Why forest bathing is good for your health. 20th August. Greater Good Magazine. [Online]. [24 March 2020]. Available from: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health

[7] Ibid

[8] Li, Q (2018). Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. [Online]. New York: Viking. [24 March 2020]. Quoted in: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_forest_bathing_is_good_for_your_health

[9] Morris, S. 2020. Wales launches £5m national forest scheme – with pupils’ help. 12th March. The Guardian Newspaper. [Online]. [24 March 2020]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/12/wales-launches-5m-national-forest-scheme-with-pupils-help


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