It’s important to remember the importance of our forests and woods. They have a direct impact on the environment and climate and are home to an array of flora, fauna and fungi. Not only do they have a huge environmental value, they are also incredibly important both economically and socially.
What’s the difference between woods and forests?
The modern day understanding of the term ‘forest’ refers to an area of wooded land, but this has not always been the case. The original medieval meaning was similar to a ‘preserve’, for example land that is legally kept for specific purposes such as royal hunting. Therefore ‘forests’ were areas large enough to support species such as wolves and deer for game hunting and they encompassed other habitats such as heaths, open grassland and farmland.
The term woodland is also considered to be land covered with trees and vegetation, but in the UK woods tend to not be as large as forests. For example, Loch Arkaig pine forest in the Highlands of Scotland is 2,500 acres, while St. John’s Woods in Devon is just three acres.
Why are woods and forests important?
Woods and forests are incredibly important. They provide a range of ecosystem services that are vital for our survival. They also provide homes to thousands of native species from mammals to invertebrates, and birds to fungi. It is important to protect this biodiversity for future generations to enjoy and to maintain healthy, functioning ecosystems. Yet our woods are under ever increasing pressures from human induced climate change, introduced pests and diseases and loss to developments.
In 2017, the Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched so that people in the UK could articulate the importance of trees in their lives. The resulting Tree Charter sets out 10 principles with the aim to sustain, create, celebrate and protect treed landscapes whilst making sure that the roles trees play in our lives are visible and realised in policy and practice across the UK.
Forests and sustainable cities
The theme of this year’s International Forest Day is ‘forests and sustainable cities’. Trees provide multiple benefits and can make our cities greener, healthier, happier places to live.
In urban environments trees can have a cooling effect on the surrounding area, making them effective at reducing the urban heat island effect. Trees reduce surface and air temperatures through evapotranspiration and by casting shade. They can also improve the air quality in these urban environments by removing dangerous pollutants.
Trees are also a store of carbon and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, one of the major greenhouse gases that contributes to climate change. Planting more trees and maintaining and protecting those that we already have is hugely important in these times of changing climate.
Woods and forests can be a good source of renewable fuel, as well as a source of nuts and fruit for food. However, it’s important that they are managed in an ecologically sustainable way so that the resource is available for future generations.
Other woodland habitats
There are many different types of woods and forest in the UK. From the magical Atlantic oakwoods of the west to the hornbeam coppice woods of the south and east, each is varied and complex, influenced by geology, soils, climate and history. You can learn more about the different habitats here.
This International Day of Forests, take some time to think about the importance of woods and forests and what they mean to us.