The Importance of Forests – 5 Facts You Didn’t Know!

The Importance of Forests – 5 Facts You Didn’t Know!

On the 21st March 2022, it’s the International Day of Forests. It’s an important day in the calendar celebrating some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems found on planet Earth. To celebrate this, we’re bringing you this new post on the importance of forests. This includes 5 facts that you didn’t know about forests and the role they play in the wider ecological system.

Why are Forests Important?

In environmental discussions, the importance of forests is always stressed. But why? What is it about forests that makes them so important?

Well, in short, forests play a number of key roles across the world that ultimately help all humans and species survive. Some of these roles are well known. For example, forests produce the oxygen we need to survive. At the same time, they absorb carbon dioxide – a huge contributor to the climate crisis. They’re also responsible for providing food and shelter for millions of species while also producing energy and employment opportunities for humans.

These factors alone, highlight the sheer importance of forests. Without them, as we are starting to see, the world and all it’s inhabitants will suffer. However, beyond the well-known facts about the importance of forests, are other facts that further highlight just how important they are to the healthy functioning of our planet.

Why Are Forests Important Infographic by UNECE and FAO Forestry
A superb infographic on the importance of forests. Source: UNECE/FAO Forestry

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Forests

1. Over 2 Billion People Rely on Forests

The world’s population is estimated to be between 7-8 billion people. However, over 2 billion of these rely on forests for shelter, livelihoods, water, food and fuel security. That’s a lot of people. Therefore, a world without forests would put the livelihoods of around a quarter of the world’s population at risk (and that doesn’t take into account their intrinsic value or all of the non-human species that rely on them).

2. Forests Can Influence the Weather

We all know how bad storms can be. However, you may be surprised to know that forests can influence the weather. They do this in multiple ways. For example, by drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, the atmosphere is cooled. They also absorb more heat than bare soil, and this warmth carries moisture into the atmosphere which creates rainfall. This effect happens both locally, resulting in microclimates, and globally, impacting global weather systems and patterns.

Therefore, the loss of forests also impacts weather. For instance, with less forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the atmosphere is not cooled and the Earth warms up.

Image of raindrops on tree leaves by Sitthan Kutty

3. Forests Help Prevent Soil Erosion

Soil’s importance to the world is tragically understated. Erosion is causing soil loss across the world and with this, important soil microorganisms are suffering. This will impact all species that need to grow in the ground and all species that rely on plants to live. However, forests can actually help prevent soil erosion and they do this in four ways:

  • They break up rainfall which limits splash erosion
  • Their roots keep the soil together
  • They limit wind which can blow soil away
  • They limit the transpiration of water

4. Only 10-20% of Forests Are Protected

Studies are updated all of the time but currently only 10-20% of forests are protected with conservation status (see IUCN, WWF and WRI). While more recent research suggests that only 6.5% is adequately protected. This means that the majority of the world’s forests are vulnerable to logging, grazing, plantations and deforestation.

What’s even more concerning is that protected forests are still being lost. For example, in 2020, 4.1 million hectares of tree cover loss occurred in protected areas.

5. Forests Used to Cover 57% of the World

Forests are vast. However, forests as we know them today are severely reduced compared to what they used to be. Today, forests cover just 38% of the planet but 10,000 years ago this figure was 57%. Worryingly, of this 19% drop, half has happened since 1900, showing the impact of the industrial, mass-agricultural and technological age of humans on the planet. The more this figure drops, the more precarious the lives of all species on Earth become.

A graph showing how Humanity Destroyed One Third of the World's Forests by Expanding Agricultural Land Image by Our World in Data
Table showing forest loss over time. Source: Our World in Data

The Importance of Forests – A Threatened Future

We don’t know what the future holds for our forests. We’ve shown here just how important they are to our own survival and that of other species. However, recent trends and data suggest we are still continuing to lose forests and forest cover throughout the world. Currently, the world is failing forests. The failed 2014 New York Declaration on Forests is evidence of this.

However, recently at COP26, a new agreement was reached to end deforestation by 2030. The Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use has been signed and agreed upon by 141 countries which covers 90% of all forests. Time will only tell if this is enough. Forests all around the world face a threatened future. The importance of forests needs to be recognised. There can be no repeat of the failed 2014 Declaration.

Featured Image: Image of tree stumps in a Scottish woodland courtesy of Ted’s Wildlife Photography.

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