The power of trees

By Tiffany Burrows

The snap of a branch. The rustle of leaves. The creak of the bark. If you listen carefully, you can hear it, can’t you? Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had an affinity with trees. Tall ones, short ones, green ones, golden ones, bare ones; I love them all. It’s the majesty of them, the timelessness, the stability, and the mythology. There’s a reason JRR Tolkien breathed life into the woodlands of Middle Earth when he created Ents as guardians of the forest.  

I seek out trees when I need a boost (I’m lucky that even in the UK’s capital, they are on my doorstep), and I’m not the only one. The Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, has long been performed as a method of relaxation, of simply being calm and quiet amongst trees and observing the nature around you. It’s been found to reduce stress, stimulate creativity, boost your immune system, and lower blood pressure. Sounds great, right? 

It’s not just physical and mental wellbeing that trees provide; they are a critical part of our fight against climate change. For instance, British woodlands hold 213 million tonnes of carbon, and are also pivotal to flood prevention. As such, it is no surprise that trees were part of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s COP26 mantra of ‘coal, cash, cars and trees’. During the summit, 12 countries backed the Global Forest Finance Pledge ($12 billion of climate finance) to support developing countries tackle deforestation, and is supposed to help deliver the commitments made under the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use with over 100 leaders committing to stop and reverse forest loss by 2030. 

Back home, the UK Government has committed to trebling tree planting rates by the end of 2024, and this week announced a new coastal community forest in Cumbria, which will see up to 150 hectares of trees, woodlands and forests planted in the area, with community forests already planned for Plymouth and South Devon, and the North East.  

So, how many trees are there already in the UK for the population to ‘bathe’ in? The UK has 13% of woodland cover; 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 9% in Northern Ireland. This isn’t a lot, and the good news is that the UK’s woodland cover has more than doubled in the last 100 years, but there is still a lot more that can be done. 

This week is National Tree Week, run by the Tree Council, an organisation which aims to bring people together to care for trees and the planet as a whole. The week marks the beginning of tree planting season, and as such, has been used as a drive to plant more trees since 1975. There are a number of tree planting initiatives you can support, from the Tree Council, the Woodland Trust, and the National Trust, so why not get involved?