I am an amateur botanist living in NW England. I am fascinated by our local flora and have recorded nearly 700 species, mostly within walking distance of my house (or, at least, a short bus ride away). And yet this marvellous flora seems to be practically invisible (in spite of the fact that records stretch back nearly 200 years). The local authorities and many (although not all) voluntary groups seem to be obsessed with planting trees. There now appears to be a widespread idea that the most noble thing that an environmentally aware person can do is to plant a tree - closely followed by planting 'wild flowers'. But I believe that tree planting should be very low down on an environmentalists list of priorities (at least in the UK) - conservation should, surely, be about valuing and enhancing what is already there - not about arbitrarily introducing new things (?)
Across the road from my house is a nature reserve which once consisted of irreplaceable native grassland. A significant portion of this grassland was destroyed in the 1970s and 80s by ill-considered and ignorant tree planting - and we are now left with a plantation of spindly trees which have lowered the water table, blow down in the slightest breeze and are associated with an impoverished ground flora. On another nearby nature reserve, which contains a locally unique flora, the local authority is planning to import top soil and plant 'wild flowers'. It's not just developers who pose a threat to biodiversity!
I suppose that what most bugs me about tree planting is that it has now become a mindless orthodoxy. Whenever a new environmental group forms in this area the first thing that they want to do is to plant trees. And I maintain there are many, many more useful things that they could be doing. For example, our remaining scraps of biodiverse habitat are either 'managed to death' by various agencies or allowed to become choked with brambles and scrub (one can make a very good case for removing [young] trees from certain areas - not planting them!).
It's interesting to read what Oliver Rackham ('The History of the British Countryside', 'Woodlands' etc.) has to say about tree planting. For example (quoting from memory): "Tree planting is not synonymous with conservation; it is a sign that conservation has failed." He also says that Britain is to small for tree planting to have any effect on the climate or atmosphere - you would have to cover half a continent!
I'm afriad that this current obsession with tree planting leads me to suspect that many people in the Green Movement, in this country, don't actually know much about the environment or have much interest in biodiversity.
In some ways you're right. Biodiversity is all about, well, diversity- a huge range of habitats and the adaptations the flora and fauna have to survive in them. By planting native, endemic, or important (where many birds get nectar from, for example) trees in the right habitats, they WILL help protect it- i.e. extending an existing forest might be a good place to start. But planting random trees in a wetland or grassland? That's like trying to plant lemon trees in the arctic! (pointless and a bit stupid). Also, a tree will take in CO2 when it is living, but when it dies, it releases CO2. So no, planting trees haphazardly isn't helping, it's making the loss of biodiversity increase!
Conserving biodiversity is about preserving the habitats already there, AND about creating new ones (or expanding existing ones, such as creating 'corridors' between reserves in the UK, for example). I think environmental groups are just concerned at the rate at which important and vital forests, like the amazon rainforest, are disappearing- maybe people feel they have to replace the trees lost there by planting them there (the UK)?? I guess it's a case of thinking before you act.
I can't disagree with anything that you say. All that I am complaining about is the thoughtless assumption that planting trees is always a good thing. On a deeper level I suspect that the blind urge to plant trees might also be part of the problem. I just wonder if the tree planters are really attempting to 'engineer' the environment, based on an underlying assumption that the natural world can't exist without man's intervention ... ? I note that developers think that they can discharge their responsibilities with respect to the natural world and biodiversity just by planting a few trees - i.e. that they can engineer their way out of the environmental damage that they cause.
I agree. Maybe it comes partly from the fact that without man's intervention, many endangered animal species wouldn't have made it now? So people assume that everything else needs our 'help'?
And yet some of the best habitats and conservation lands are parts of the world that have been untouched by man. I think its because we're stupid and selfish enough to think that just because we're the 'highest evolved mammal' the world apparently can't turn without us? Who knows, but I think you're message is actually rather important to get across. People shouldn't always think they can just 'carbon offset' (or something) by planting a few trees, they should take steps to avoid that amount of pollution in the first place, although I guess that saying you'll plant some trees is the easy way out to stop you feeling guilty about what man is doing to the natural world, or raise a company's 'green' credentials. Good conservation takes time, and patience is a virtue (that many of us don't have).