What do trees actually do for us? We know they’re the lungs of the Earth and a key ally in the fight against climate change, sucking carbon out of our atmosphere and producing oxygen for us to breathe. But they also offer shade, cool our cities during the summer, and are home to a teeming variety of wildlife, from rare species of insects and birds to fungi and mammals. And of course, trees feed us – not just with apples, papaya and cashew nuts, but also because forestry is an important economic sector in many European countries.
Yet there is trouble in paradise. While forested land in the EU increased by around 10% between 1991 and 2020, levels of biodiversity are declining, in addition to the spread of pests, pollution, diseases, and forest fires. Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and floods, as well as urban development and agriculture will only increase over the next few years, and they also put a lot of pressure on forests.
What can we do? We need to protect our trees and plant more of them. This is why the EU has committed to planting at least 3 billion additional trees in Europe by 2030. If planted across 2 million hectares within the next decade, they could remove around 4 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030, rising to 15 million tonnes by 2050 – the equivalent of over 19 million return flights from Madrid to Helsinki!
There is no better time to take action than the present, because trees are our key natural solution in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. As part of the 3 billion trees pledge, there have already been nearly 1.1 million trees planted across 10 countries – and that figure is set to rapidly rise over the next decade. However, to ensure we reach the target, we need the participation of as many people as possible.
We’re also fast approaching the best time of year to plant trees! Planting between late winter and early spring allows the tree to adapt to a milder climate while at the same time giving it enough time to fully take root before the hot and dry summer. So grab your shovel, roll up your sleeves and get ready to start planting!
How can I get involved?
Trees must be planted and grown in full respect of their immediate environment: the right tree in the right place and for the right purpose. For example, trees generally don’t grow well on bogs because it’s too wet for them and there aren’t enough nutrients. But it does not mean these areas are worthless – wetlands, peatlands, and grassland are all very valuable ecosystems, supporting a wide range of wildlife and storing vast amounts of carbon.
What you should plant depends on where you live. Perhaps you could start by simply planting a regionally sourced seedling that will benefit your local environment? This was how Romanian Climate Pact Ambassador Vladimir Boc got going. “I remember planting my first tree when I was about seven or eight years old,” he says. “It was a small tree in a pot on the terrace of my apartment. I planted it because I like nature, and I wanted to bring it as close to home as possible.” Garden or terrace-friendly saplings include apple, pear and cherry trees, which can attract local birds, in addition to small trees such as magnolias and lilacs.
This small step eventually led Vladimir to the bigger choice of a career: “Today I work as a landscape architect, and my job is to plan and design public and private green spaces, such as parks, gardens, sports areas and waterfronts. A big challenge for me is to work out how to bring nature back into cities – through projects like green roofs, planted walls, rain gardens, planters and small community gardens. I’m also helping to develop national and local guidelines to help people in Romania design and manage green areas in a sustainable way.”
What about helping to restore forests?
Perhaps you want to plant trees on a larger scale? In this case, you can find existing schemes and organisations to join. A good example is the Latvian “Forest Days,” an annual tree planting and forestry event, the largest such event in Baltic countries, which takes place in all historical regions of Latvia.
“The aim is to make people aware of the value of forests and the importance of sustainable forest management,” says European Climate Pact Ambassador Daiga Zute, a researcher in Silava, the Latvian State Forest Research Institute. “Sustainable forestry is the responsibility of the entire nation! The tradition is now so popular that some volunteers are waiting in line for the next event.”
In 2020, Forest Days attracted volunteers from all regions of Latvia. Municipalities, companies, forest sector institutions and organisations, active residents of local communities, school students and kids all took part, raising awareness of the protection of woodlands and landscaping, as well as the need for green space in urban areas.
“It’s great to feel that you are personally contributing to nature, the forests and the climate – I hope everyone tries it,” Daiga concludes.
Where can I find out more?
Events and schemes like Forest Days are taking place across Europe as part of the EU’s plan to plant 3 billion trees by 2030. For more information, keep an eye on MapMyTree – a new EU tool that will help you find out how many trees have been planted in your local area and which local tree planting schemes you can join. You can also use it to look for environmental organisations to support and, of course, to track the EU’s progress in reaching the overall goal of 3 billion trees.
Once you’ve found a local scheme or organisation, get in touch and start planting! And if you are already part of an organisation, you can report the trees you have planted:
- Check to make sure your trees fulfil the conditions on this webpage.
- Login to Reportnet3* using an existing or new EU Login account.
- Once registered on Reportnet3, you can write to ENV-3BILLIONTREES@ec.europa.eu.
Not part of an organisation? No worries – individuals will be able to report tree planting from spring 2022. Can’t find a scheme near you? You can also ask your local authority, or relevant forestry organisation in your country about how you can help to care for your local forests.
Finally, don’t forget to join the European Climate Pact – a grassroots movement of people, businesses, cities and organisations making pledges to build a healthier and more sustainable Europe for generations to come. Planting trees is just one important way you can help to fight climate change, but there are many more actions you can take - cycle more, reduce food waste or switch to solar energy. The steps we take as individuals are critical to changing the tide and making Europe greener. Happy planting!
- 27 Januar 2022