Saturday, May 21

With the climate emergency, the challenge of planting trees in England

Concentrated, heads down, three employees of Moor Trees, a nursery in the southwest of England, shell pods of red seeds and toss them one by one into a large bucket. First potted, those which will have germinated will be transplanted into the ground after two years.

With the climate emergency, planting trees is fashionable and sometimes seen as a miraculous solution by states or companies to capture CO2 or improve their carbon footprint.

Rightly or wrongly, because it remains a long, complicated process which must not obscure the necessary cut in polluting emissions.

“A few years ago we were growing 6,000 trees a year, now it’s 15,000 and we want to grow to 25,000,” says Adam Owen, director of Moor Trees.

“For three years, I haven’t had to ask a single person to find out if we could plant trees for them. These are the people who come to pick us up,” he adds, passing in neat rows. beech plants, protected from rodents by netting.

Funding is pouring in from all sides: government funds, donations from companies or individuals.

At Eden Project, another reforestation NGO, the budget has increased from “five million dollars in 2019 to 26 million” this year with an expansion of their activity in eight countries, explains its director, Stephen Fitch. They hope to raise 120 million in 2023.

The United Kingdom has a long way to go: only 13% of the British territory is covered with woods and forests compared to 31 to 50% on average in Europe.

The government is targeting 30 million trees planted per year from 2025.

But this ambitious objective risks being complicated by the difficulty of finding land: many are already built, cultivated or include habitats to be protected, such as peat or marshes, other natural carbon sinks.

The seeds themselves are lacking: they often have to be imported, especially from the Netherlands where horticulture is a major industry – but then they run the risk of importing microbes or bacteria.

Moor Trees is thus campaigning for reforestation from seeds of local trees, adapted to the British soil.

“Trees have an important role to play in removing carbon from the atmosphere, there is no other ‘quick way to’ sequester carbon ‘,” said Luke Barley, consultant for the National Trust, a public organization. defense of British heritage and natural parks.

– “Last fad” –

But he is worried about the risks of “greenwashing”: countries or companies could be tempted to plant trees to improve their image while pushing back their efforts to really cut down on their CO2 emissions.

“It is not acceptable for an organization to continue to operate as if nothing had happened, just offsetting its emissions through tree plantations,” he insists.

In particular, while attention is focused on new trees that will only sequester significant amounts of carbon in 20 years, deforestation of tropical forests continues, he denounces in an interview with AFP.

Adam Owen is also annoyed that trees have become “the latest fad” that policymakers are rushing after having focused in recent decades on agricultural food production, then biofuels.

However, he emphasizes, planting trees takes time, a lot of money, and therefore long-term visibility.

Small-scale nurseries will not be able to meet the challenge on their own.

Some farms are embarking on this activity, a new source of income especially for breeders at a time when meat consumption is falling in the United Kingdom.

Adam Owen argues, however, that the vocation of non-profit organizations like his is also to create social links.

And Briony James, director of public actions at Moor Trees, says she has seen “a noticeable increase in volunteers in recent years”, who play “a crucial role because planting trees takes a long time.”

Once they know how to plant, they can do it at home “and help reforest” their region, she says.

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