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another abandoned Christmas Tree

The fate of Christmas trees

by Angus ~ 3 January, 2020 ~ comments welcome

There is considerable debate as to the virtues or otherwise of buying a real Christmas tree over an artificial one.  This comes into focus somewhat more sharply in the post-Christmas period.  

A  6 to 7 foot high natural tree (bought with no roots) would be between ten to fifteen years old and it has a fairly low carbon footprint.   As it has been growing, it has been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away in the form of cellulose and lignin, whilst releasing oxygen.  However, this footprint changes dramatically if its fate is to be consigned to land fill.   As it decomposes, it will produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas and the carbon footprint of the tree will increase quite dramatically.   If, however, the tree is carefully composted, then its environmental impact can remain relatively low (visit the Carbon Trust for detail).  

The cultivation and growth of natural Christmas trees provides a wildlife habitat, and the trees help stabilise and protect soil.  But in some parts of the world, notably Canada and the USA, the growth and supply of Christmas trees has been affected by heatwaves (as in Oregon in 2017 / 2018 - which killed many very young trees), insect damage and wildfires. The effects of climate change are particularly marked in Canada.  It may be that climate change will intensify the effect of these factors, and that Christmas tree ‘farms’ may need to move to higher elevations - where it is cooler and insect pests (e.g. balsam twig aphid) are less of a problem.  Read more...

a problem with methane

a problem with methane

by Chris ~ 11 October, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Radiant energy from the sun falls on the Earth; some of this energy is absorbed by the planet and its atmosphere.  Some of the energy is radiated back into space.  The balance between the absorbed and radiated energy determines global temperature.  This balance is changed by a number of factors - the intensity of the solar energy, cloud reflectivity, the absorption of energy by various gases or surfaces.

The reflectivity of the Earth’s surface  (the albedo) influences the amount of light energy that is reflected back into space. Snow has a high albedo, that is, it reflects much of the light back out into space.  Dark objects (like conifer plantations) reflect less light / radiation and absorb more thereby trapping heat that would otherwise be reflected back into space. The amount of energy that is ‘retained’ is also influenced by the presence of particular gases in the atmosphere - the so-called 'greenhouse gases', notably carbon dioxide and methane.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased dramatically from 280 ppm during the 10,000 years up to the mid-18th century to 415 ppm (as of 2019).  This increase has certainly contributed to the changes in climate that we have witnessed in recent years - extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding.   Read more...

Forests and woodlands in flux

Forests and woodlands in flux

by Chris ~ 28 August, 2019 ~ one comment

Twelve thousand years ago (during the late glacial maximum) massive ice sheets and glaciers extended across much of the world. Then, the climate began to warm and about ten thousand years ago, our landscape started to look very different from today - not just because there were no roads, towns or cities but because the newly exposed land was being colonised by plants, trees, animals – and lastly by people. 

The forests and woodlands that slowly developed in the post Ice Age period were different to the forests and woodlands that we see today. The land was colonised (at this time) by the plants and animals that lived on ‘the edge of the ice’. Read more...

amazon associate

Is Amazon’s packaging gobbling up our forests?

by Angus ~ 27 July, 2019 ~ one comment

Here at woodlands.co.uk, we’re not just interested in how our woodlands are protected and cared for. We also like to know how trees are being used for things like packaging - it occurred to us as yet another order from Amazon arrived with ample brown paper and plenty of space in the box, that the demand on trees from a company the size of Amazon would be very high indeed.  So we went to Amazon to ask some questions and we learned a lot more whilst visiting one of Amazon's 200 giant warehouses.  The one we visited on an industrial estate in Peterborough is big enough to cover 8 football pitches with a million square feet of space. Read more...

Changing phenologies and climate change

Changing phenologies and climate change

by Chris ~ 16 July, 2019 ~ one comment

Phenology is about the observation of natural events, recording when things happen, for example, when horse chestnut and ash trees come into leaf, or when the first swifts or bumblebees are seen. These timings vary from year to year. Through the recording of natural events over many years, one can look for trends and see if they are correlated with changes in the weather or other phenomena.

Recent studies by researchers at Rothampstead, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the British Trust for Ornithology suggest that a number of different phenologies are changing.   They looked at various insect and bird populations in a variety of different habitats (urban gardens, agricultural systems, sand dunes, grassland, woodlands etc).  The broad conclusion was there was a trend towards earlier phenologies for UK bird, moth and butterfly species across habitat types” . For example, aphids (which breed rapidly and can adapt to changing temperature quite quickly) now take flight some 30 days earlier in the year than fifty years ago.   Such phenological changes have ‘knock on’ effects.  For example, the earlier arrival of aphids can affect potato crops.  Aphids spread plant viruses and young potato plants are more susceptible to viral disease than older, more mature plants. Read more...

Planting trees – millions of them - part 2

Planting trees – millions of them – part 2

by Chris ~ 3 July, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Woodlands and forests can help to slow global warming and associated climate change (which results in extreme heat, drought, floods and famine /poverty).  Trees release water through transpiration into the atmosphere and ‘encourage’ rainfall.  Trees also help to reduce air pollution, they provide habitats for wildlife and economic benefits in terms of employment for local people. 

Governments across the globe are finally realising the potential of “natural solutions to climate change, namely reforestation and ecological restoration of habitats – both  of which allow for carbon sequestration - ‘locking up carbon into organic form’. It has been estimated that such natural solutions could go a long way towards stabilising global heating below the critical 2oC threshold Read more...

Planting trees - millions of them

Planting trees – millions of them

by Chris ~ 17 June, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Following the First World War, the UK’s woodland coverage was at an all time low – just 5 per cent of total land area. The Acland Committee reported to then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, that state organisation would be the most effective way to bring about re-afforestation of the UK and plan for the future of British woodland.  

As a result, the Forestry Commission was set up and, throughout the early decades of the twentieth century, it voraciously bought up land.  The aim of the Forestry Commission was to ensure that there would be a strategic reserve of timber, so, as it acquired land, it began to plant - mainly with conifers .

Low grade’ lands (those that were less in demand for agriculture) were pressed into service such as areas around Thetford Chase and Kielder, as were some sandy coastal sites (e.g. Holkham in Norfolk Read more...

Trees, woodlands and methane

Trees, woodlands and methane

by Chris ~ 12 June, 2019 ~ comments welcome

Methane might be a clean fossil fuel when in a pipeline but it is second only to carbon dioxide in terms of contributing to global warming, when present in the atmosphere.  Over the last two centuries, the level of methane in the atmosphere has increased dramatically (and now stands at approximately 1800 parts per billion). Much of this increase has been linked to certain agricultural practices (farming of cattle and other ruminants, paddy fields) plus the emissions from decomposing landfill etc. 

However, recent work in a number of forested and woodland areas (for example, The Amazon, Borneo, China, Hungary etc) has suggested that the release of methane by trees is significant, and given that methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas - this has to be considered in relation to climate change.  The methane contribution from  trees has not really been considered when working out the global methane budget but it now seems that they make a contribution.   Read more...

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