Planting the wrong tree in the wrong place might do more harm than good when it comes to fighting climate change. Rose Revera, LNP Coordinator for Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf, explains why it’s so important that we consider tree species when planting – and what our LNPs are doing to help.
If you’re reading this, you’ll be more than aware that we’re in the middle of a global climate emergency. One of the ways that governments across the world are trying to combat this issue is with huge tree-planting initiatives, hoping that the new forests will absorb the CO2 we’re continually projecting into the atmosphere.
Other organisations, and even individuals who are looking to help fight the climate emergency in any way they can, have also started planting trees to help the cause.
What isn’t broadcast so frequently about tree planting is the potentially negative impact it can have on biodiversity. By transplanting random trees into random places, we can disturb existing habitats, cause havoc for local ecosystems and even increase CO2 emissions.
A recent report from Global Change Biology offers ‘ten golden rules’ for tree planting. As we approach tree planting season in Wales, I think they serve as a brilliant reminder that planting a tree shouldn’t always be the first port of call.
Protect existing forest first
Established forests are much richer in nature and way better than new forests at absorbing CO2 due to their complex structure and resilience to fire and flooding. Any forest ecosystem can take longer than 100 years to regenerate – time that, you’ll agree, we don’t have.
The report emphasises the need to ‘involve all stakeholders and make local people integral to the project’. So why not get involved with your Local Nature Partnership as your first step – a network of local people and organisations who care about nature in your area. There you’ll be able to find out whether there are already tree planting activities in your locality or work out where would be most appropriate for a new project.
Aim to maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals
Welsh Parliament has just declared a nature emergency, with local authorities across the country following suit. It’s absolutely vital that we ensure that any tree planting enhances Wales’ natural habitats. Networks like the LNP help to ensure that there are advocates for nature in every part of Wales, on hand to give guidance and advice to whoever needs it.
Select appropriate areas for reforestation
As I mentioned earlier, the first thing we need to do is to recover existing forest. The next best thing we can do is plant on previously wooded land where the woodland has degraded. We need to avoid planting on existing natural landscapes (grasslands, wetlands etc) as these will already be collecting carbon, probably more than any new trees could.
Use natural regeneration wherever possible
Often, it’s better to let nature run its course than jump in all spades blazing. Not just for the areas habitats, but also for the climate. The report says, ‘carbon sequestration in naturally regenerated areas is potentially 40 times greater than in plantations.’
However, the regeneration depends on other factors like proximity to other natural forest, and wetness of climate. If it meets these, let it grow!
Select species to maximize biodiversity
If you’ve considered the options above and are still going to plant, make sure you consider which species you’re planting to help create a vibrant woodland habitat. Plant a mix of species to encourage biodiversity, prioritising native species and excluding invasive species. One of the big benefits of biodiversity is that it’ll increase the density of your woodland due to a richer variety of seed-carriers.
Use resilient plant material
You want your forest to last? It all starts with the seeds, and as always, the more genetic diversity the better. Best practice involves collecting seeds from at least 50 individual trees across the full extent of the parent population. So, get collecting!
Plan ahead for infrastructure, capacity and seed supply
The reason we’re in a climate emergency in the first place is because we didn’t plan for the future. Tree nurseries and seed provenance centres ensure that we don’t just have woodlands today, but we’ll have them for years to come.
For example, Denbighshire LNP have established a tree nursery to grow local provenance native trees for planting across the county. This will not only help generate resilient plant material for the area’s woodlands, but also continue to generate seeds to supply woodlands to come. So consider making a visit to your tree nursery before planting – or maybe even start one yourself (speak to your LNP first of course!)
Learn by doing
It’s best practice to run a small trial before committing to planting or restoring a big woodland area. If you’re regenerating on an old plot, it’s also a great idea to speak with local communities who will remember the forest in its previous life.
Make it pay
This point in the report is directed more at areas of tropical rainforest that would otherwise be farmland – the need to make their income generation more than the landowner would achieve otherwise.
However in our case, I think it still needs to ‘pay’ by giving something to the community – a chance to learn about nature, tire the kids out, or simply a tranquil space to catch their breath. The more we can do to facilitate these opportunities, the better our woodland.
References for the points above,,as well as more detailed information, are available in the full Global Change Biology report.
If you’re thinking of planting a tree or your organisation is looking to plant some trees, please get in touch with your Local Nature Partnership Coordinator to learn more about what is appropriate and suitable for your area.