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The Future of Trees

October 7, 2021

By Tys Theijsmeijer, Head of Natural Lands, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Fall is defined by the changing colour of deciduous trees and made deeply special to each of us through the experience of a stroll that renews one’s spirits. What a great opportunity to then gain an overview of the state of trees around the world and consider our planet’s sustainability.

Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has recently released an extraordinary report – A Global Tree Assessment Report, that provides some context. Below is the Forward from the Report, by Jean-Christophe Vié Director General Fondation Franklinia, to pique your interest in this remarkable summary document and to help lead you into a deeper understanding of our individual choices as we work to make our planet sustainable:

Trees are one of the most familiar forms of life for all humans and represent the largest part of earth biomass. They can be found in most regions of the world. For most people trees may all look rather similar but, with nearly 60,000 species in existence, they constitute a very diverse group and form the most diverse habitats on the planet. A huge number of other species (epiphytic plants, fungi, birds, mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, etc.) depend on their presence. Their protection leads to enormous benefits to humans and wildlife alike.

It is therefore very surprising to learn that so little was known about their conservation status and shocking to know that deforestation rates remain so high. Many tree species are on the brink of extinction, some represented by one last living individual.

Unfortunately, many people continue to see trees mostly as a source of wood, which faces an unsustainable and growing demand. This, added to destructive agriculture practices, leads to the disappearance of forests all around the globe, the replacement of “non-productive” species by fast growing tree species and the impoverishment of tree diversity. We have known for some time how many mammals, birds and amphibians, and which species in these groups, will be lost forever without conservation measures. Now, at last, we also know how many tree species face extinction, where they are located and what can be done to reverse the trend.

The shocking reality is that 30% of all tree species are under threat in the wild. Now that the state of forests and the level of greenhouse gas emissions have reached a critical state, there is fortunately a new focus on trees. Through reforestation efforts, there is a huge opportunity to change this dire picture but tree planting practices largely need to change. Forests can regenerate naturally if given a little time to rest and when tree planting is needed, in particular for threatened tree species that have reached very low numbers of individuals, the right species need to be planted in the right place.

To find out more, see the full BGCI Report or learn more about BGCI and the Global Assessment.

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