Forests are home to 80% of land-based life on Earth. This biome radiates with the abundance of life that it provides and protects. From fierce leopards, that regulate the population of rodents, to the microscopic fungi that serve as communication networks for trees, forests teach us that all living beings and life cycles play a crucial role in supporting the well-being of our planet. Even the dead leaves that shower the forest floor continue to provide nutrients to the soil!
Life in the forest is interdependent since every aspect of this biome serves a purpose, such as this leopard pictured above.
The Far-Reaching Impacts of Forests
From books to furniture, sweet syrups on pancakes, and the fuel used for transportation, the powerful impact of forests reaches us within our homes and in our most industrial environments. Forests provide us with the essential resources we use in our daily lives, such as our medicine and cosmetics. But its impact on us extends beyond our material realm. A few of the many benefits of forests include:
- Improving air and soil qualities
The process of phytoremediation involves using plants to absorb and remove contaminants from the soil and water. Poplar and willow trees, in particular, have been proven to absorb incredible amounts of waste water due to their extensive root systems. Forest trees also absorb harmful air pollutants (e.g. carbon dioxide) and, in turn, release oxygen back into the air. By storing the carbon in their trunks, they help balance the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our environments.
- Regulating climate on various scales
In addition to storing carbon dioxide, forest canopy leaves protect the land from extreme heat by providing shade and moving heat away from the Earth’s surface. Forests also prevent harsh weather conditions, such as flooding, by absorbing excess rain water that seeps deep into the soil through tree root systems.
- Improving our mental and physical health
Spending time in the forest can alleviate mental and physical ailments by reducing stress and improving concentration and productivity. Forest therapy is the healing exercise of immersing oneself in the forest and experiencing the pleasures of nature through all of the senses. It is rooted in the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which has been proven to help reduce stress hormones. Moreover, forests also create relaxing environments by reducing noise pollution.
The Combretum erythrophyllum (River Bush-willow) tree is an indigenous South African tree that has been used as phytoremediation to reduce wastewater.
The Secret Social Lives of Forests
“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.” ―Peter Wohlleben
Forests consist of an intricate community of trees and other living beings. Similar to people, trees are social creatures who depend on various relationships to grow and thrive. When trees are isolated, they are removed from their support system and lack the social resources to mature. In fact, forest trees tend to live longer than urban trees because of their strong support system.
This support system works underground through networks of fungi, which live in their roots. These deeply rooted connections allow them to share and exchange information and nutrients with each other. To learn more about the communication between trees, check out our blog post here!
The ‘world wood web’ consists of the hidden communication between trees through their underground network of fungi.
Forests for the People and the Planet
Our interconnected world demands healthier forests for healthier communities and the planet. According to the United Nations, over 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 70% of people are exceptionally dependent on forests. However, around 15 billion trees are cut down every year due to deforestation. The alarming decline of our forests prompts major biodiversity and habitat loss. In fact, around one million species are threatened with extinction. While human activity may be the driving force behind deforestation, these human hands also have power to heal the planet.
Restoring Forests and Empowering Communities
Reforestation is one solution to alleviating the various consequences of our climate crisis. It involves replanting trees in degraded areas of existing forests and woodlands. However, reforestation goes beyond helping the planet. It also provides people with job opportunities, more recreational activities and increased food security for local communities. For city dwellers, studies have shown that reforestation projects in urban areas boost mental health and reduce stress of individuals working in office spaces. To put it simply, reforestation has the power to enhance personal livelihoods, rebuild and create communities!
An ancient Milkwood tree at the Platbos Forest Reserve, taken during Greenpop’s Reforest Fest. Photographer: Juliette Bisset
The Platbos Conservation Trust and Reforest Fest
One small reforestation project that has led to a large conservation impact is the Platbos Conservation Trust, which has restored the Platbos Forest with more than 54,000 forest trees since 2005. The Platbos Forest is one of the few surviving indigenous forests in South Africa and previously hosted Greenpop’s annual Reforest Fest. The Reforest Fest is our biggest tree-planting event of the year and is a part of our Uilenkraal Forest Restoration Project, which aims to restore degraded forest patches at the Platbos Forest Reserve and Bodhi Khaya Nature Retreat. So far, the project has planted more than 105,000 trees– with more trees in the works! However, our impact and conservation goals go beyond restoring the land. We strive to cultivate community throughout all of our projects. So if you’re interested in joining the fun and want more information on our upcoming Reforest Fest, check it out here: https://greenpop.org/reforest-fest/.
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Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.