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Hard lessons learned in restoring some of the United Kingdom's long-lost forest cover over the past 100 years are being used to restore lost and degraded forests around the world, according to Britain's leading forester.
Referring to the continuing rapid loss of forests in some countries and the widespread concern about the greenhouse gas emissions it causes, Tim Rollinson, Director-General of the Forestry Commission, said many countries are now in the same position that the UK was at in 1919. Then, thousands of years of deforestation for fuel, timber and conversion of forest land to agriculture, grazing and urban development had left it with little more than 5 per cent of the land covered in trees.
However, following a change in Government policy and the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919, the UK's overall forest area has more than doubled.
Acknowledging this achievement, "many countries have come to us to see what we did, what we got right, what we got wrong, what we learned along the way. For a country with such little forest cover, we punch well above our weight internationally," said Mr Rollinson, who was delivering the ninth lecture in the National Sustainable Development Centre's lecture series on leadership in St Andrews, Scotland, today. (Thursday 23 April 2009)
"The drivers of deforestation - principally conversion of forests to agriculture - remain largely unchecked. For many developing countries, forest exploitation is the early first step to economic development. It is a path travelled by many other countries, and mankind has removed more than half of Earth’s original forest cover."
He recalled that the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had said that reducing deforestation had to be a cornerstone of global strategies to tackle climate change. In addition, it had said forest restoration - through afforestation and restoration of degraded forests - can play as big a part in the longer term, and should be at the heart of future climate change strategies.
"This is important for the future of our planet. With the global population forecast to increase to 8 billion by 2025, the pressure on all of our natural resources is immense, but forest cover continues to fall.
"However, we know from our own hard-won experience that restoring forests can be done. There are many examples of successful restoration around the world, including the UK.
"We need to draw on them, learn the lessons of what makes successful restoration, and spread the best practice globally. This is why our experience here in the UK is now so valuable and so sought after. In a sense, we got there first: we deforested long before most other countries, but we did do something positive about it.
"If we are not too late we can restore the balance between man and nature in forest landscapes. We can reverse the trend. Restoration means building sustainable relationships between communities, commercial interests and the damaged ecosystems on which they all depend."
Mr Rollinson summarised the key lessons learned from the UK's experience of reforestation, including:
- understanding that people have an innate resistance to change, which means "the longer people have to get used to a landscape without trees and regard it is as normal, the harder it becomes to repair the damage";
- restoration must aim to achieve all the economic, social and environmental benefits that forests can provide, not just one or two of them; and
- to succeed, restoration has to be done in partnership with local people to ensure that it protects and enhances their social, economic and environmental interests.
“So although we can’t replace a pristine rainforest once it has gone, we can replace the functions it provided. In destroying our natural forests we have contributed to the disruption of the whole precarious balance of our planet as much as when we plundered the coal, the oil, and the gas.
"The difference is, the only one of those we can replace is the forest."
NOTES TO EDITOR:
- Deforestation contributes almost one-fifth of the greenhouse gas releases to the atmosphere that are causing global warming and climate change, making it the second biggest source. It is currently mostly a problem of tropical regions in Latin America, Africa and Asia, while forest cover in many temperate regions, including Europe and North America, has been increasing in recent decades. However, the rate of increase in reforesting areas does not match the rate of loss in deforesting areas, so the net change in global forest cover in recent years has been in the order of 7 million hectares a year - an area almost the size of Scotland. For further information about forests and climate change, see http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-7m8f59.
- The Sustainable Development Research Centre is an Associate Institute for sustainable research with the University of the Highlands & Islands' Millennium Institute. It explores the concepts of sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and social enterprise development, and seeks to advise and support individuals, communities, businesses and other organisations to create a more sustainable culture. For further information visit www.sustainableresearch.com.
- The Forestry Commission is the government department for forestry in Great Britain.
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