Ten “golden rules” for reforestation have been set out by scientists as they warned poorly executed tree planting schemes can harm the environment.
Planting trees to reduce carbon emissions can be presented as an “easy answer” to tackling the climate crisis, but it can cause more problems than benefits, experts have said.
The researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) are urging a “right tree in the right place” approach to make sure restoring forests benefits people and the planet.
Conservation partnership coordinator at RBG Kew Dr Kate Hardwick said: “When people plant the wrong trees in the wrong place, it can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing to help people or nature.”
A study by the scientists found in some cases, tree planting schemes did not increase the amount of carbon being stored in the landscape and could hit wildlife and people’s livelihoods.
Planting large areas with only a few, non-native, species can push out the wildlife, reduce the amount of carbon being stored in soils and the forests, and reduce the land available for crops – potentially causing more deforestation elsewhere.
Allowing areas of forest to naturally regenerate is cheaper and can create up to 40 times more potential for carbon storage than plantations while picking the right trees and places for planting can help restore nature and boost people’s livelihoods.
The 10 golden rules, set out in a paper published in the Global Change Biology journal, focus on protecting existing forests first, putting local people at the heart of projects, and using natural regrowth of trees where possible.
Dr Paul Smith, secretary-general at BGCI, said the rules highlighted that planting trees was highly complex.
“There is no universal, easy solution to a successful reforestation initiative given the extraordinary diversity of trees, forest types and the unique cultural and economic environments each forest is in.
“However, there are successful examples that we can learn from and develop further to build on current public and private interest in the topic,” he said
A virtual conference next month has been organised by RBG Kew and BGCI, with Sky Zero as its headline sponsor.
It will bring together a series of interesting global perspectives to debate and challenge the myth that “all tree planting is good” and to discuss best practice for protecting and restoring the world’s forests.
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The conference will be opened by The Prince of Wales and it is hoped the discussions will raise the standard of reforestation globally ahead of the UN conferences (COP15 and COP26) later this year on new global biodiversity and climate change agreements.