African & The World – the Gift of Trees

SMA Justice Briefing No 41
Trees are the biggest plants on Planet Earth. They are essential for life.
Trees are important to our lives in many ways. We admire them for their beauty, their endless variety of shapes and colours, their strength and long lifespan.

They help many of us to relax and to soothe us when we are stressed – thus improving our sense of well-being. Trees can also strengthen the distinctive character of our entire surroundings and give a sense of pride in our locality.

Trees, however, do so much more. During the past decade, Climate Change has taken a central place in our consciousness. It is now generally accepted that Trees can play an important part in helping to alleviate the negative effects of Climate Change.
A recent study lists some of the benefits of growing and nurturing trees. Cf. North Carolina State University: College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

● “Trees absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses, thus reducing the greenhouse effect .
● A healthy tree can store 13 pounds (5.9 kilos approx) of carbon dioxide each year.
● An acre of trees can absorb enough carbon dioxide in a year to equal the amount produced when one drives a car 26,000 miles (41,800 Kilometres approximately)”.

We need Trees
For us – human beings – trees are vital. They release oxygen. “One large tree can supply a day’s supply of oxygen for four people”.
It is also clear that “canopies ” of trees act as a physical filter – trapping dust and absorbing pollutants from the air, as well as providing shade from solar radiation and reducing noise. This benefits our health and well-being. Trees also create an ecosystem to provide habitat and food for birds and animals. Hundreds of living creatures call trees their “home”.  

Further environmental benefits of trees include: 
● “Helping to reduce surface water run-off from storms – thus decreasing soil erosion and the accumulation of sediment in streams. Trees increase ground water recharge and reduce the number of potentially harmful chemicals transported to our streams”.
● “Fallen tree leaves can reduce soil temperature and soil moisture loss. Decaying leaves promote soil microorganisms and provide nutrients for tree growth”. Fallen leaves make excellent compost that enriches soil. 

Growing Awareness
It is encouraging to note the growing consciousness throughout the world as regards the importance of Trees in the efforts to counter Climate Change and to create a healthy, peaceful and sustainable environment for all. A sample of initiatives include:
● Thirteen countries in Africa are cooperating in planting a “wall” of drought-free resistant trees (mostly acacia) from West to East Africa. The project aims to grow 8,000 kilometre “belt” of trees across the entire continent of Africa. It will be 15 kilometres in width. There are many “success stories” to date. Cf. SMA Justice Briefing No.38
● We in the Society of African Missions (SMA) have launched the Laudato Tree Project as a contribution to Great Green Wall projects in Africa’s Sahel region and as a help to planting trees in Ireland. Cf. Laudato Tree Project: Planting Trees, Growing Hope Leaflet &  
● Ethiopia planted more than 350 million tree seedlings in 12 hours on 29th July 2019 – spearheaded by the country’s Prime Minister Abij Ahmed. CNN Inside Africa: 30th July 2019
● In the United Kingdom, tree planting initiatives include the Northern Forest which, when completed, will be made up of 25 million trees – spanning the north of England from Liverpool to Hull. The Guardian Newspaper: 4th September 2019.
● Ireland continues to improve on the planting to trees, though at 11% of its land mass, it is still well below the European average (35%).

1) What can I do about it?
Plant a Tree. One may say that my own little effort won’t make a difference. As the population of the Island of Ireland approaches seven million, this could mean seven million trees!
There are numerous reforestation agencies/charities operating in Ireland to assist. Many have their own web-sites and can be easily contacted. For example, the Tree Council of Ireland offers advice on the planting of trees and lists a programme of events for each county to mark the annual “National Tree Week”.

2) But can I just plant a tree by myself?
Experts agree that this is commendable – but add valuable advice. One needs to check on ownership and legal aspects of sites. It isn’t a case of filling up every empty space with trees. Further, some grasslands and peat-lands may be already rich in biodiversity and in locking up lots of carbon dioxide in their own right. Others suggest that care must be taken that the species of trees need to be carefully chosen. One must also ensure that they are free of disease and that they can grow well in a particular environment.

3) What about planting a tree in my own back garden?
While not needing permission, the experts point out that thought must be given to what species will grow where you live and also how big the tree could get. This could affect your neighbours. It is advisable to plant smaller species – such as apple trees or rowan.

Other practical considerations include the location of underground pipes, and closeness to house foundations. As one expert wryly remarked: “Its no use planting an oak tree two feet outside the back door – it will damage your house….

Aftercare is absolutely vital for young and newly planted trees. The act of planting is not the end of the process. Without aftercare, the plant could die or not grow to a size where it could provide benefits such as capturing carbon dioxide. The Guardian Newspaper: Grow Your Own Forest: 4th September 2019

4) When is the best time to plant a tree?
Twenty years ago!

5) When is the second-best time?
Today! (Ancient Chinese Proverb)

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Much of the information in this briefing came from: