International Day of Forests: Learning to Love Forests

By: Lawrence Jones-Walters · 21 March 2019
Category: Biodiversity

Forests have a strong place in human culture. They played a role in human evolution, are the subject of fairy tales, have been ancient and modern places of worship, are the settings for adventure movies and have always been a source of food and shelter. Most of us value forests, for whatever reason and wherever they are. And for many of us they provide inspiration.

Forests also have great economic value. They provide homes for indigenous peoples, habitat for some of our most dramatic plant and animal species and together they form the ‘green lung’ for our planet. Still we cut down huge areas of forest every year and fail to manage them sustainably or to replace them. Which is why the United Nations raises awareness about the importance of all types of forests every year, on the 21st of March. This year’s International Day of Forests is promoting education at all levels for people to ‘Learn to Love Forests’, emphasising the importance of learning and education in achieving sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation.

How to learn to love forests: here’s a starter

As Wageningen University & Research, it is no surprise that education is part of our core business. We can teach you more about forests and help you grow to love them even more. We run a two year Master’s programme on Forest and Nature Conservation that focuses on policy, sustainable management and conservation of forest and nature. Students find out about, understand and learn how to predict the effect of phenomena such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, ecotourism, timber production and animal reintroductions.

In order to address these issues, students are provided with insights into all aspects of forest and nature conservation. They even get the chance to do relevant and impacting research in forests all over the globe. This study programme reflects the integrated approach to natural resource management that the United Nations is hoping for. Their learning can be applied at different scales, to diverse ecosystems and in varying political and social contexts.

Our hope is that our students, who come from all over the world, will gain the knowledge to go on and have a real influence on some of the ‘big issues’ in sustainable forest management.

There is talking about trees, and talking trees

There is ‘talking about trees’, but we also have ‘talking trees’. Forests are made up of individual trees and if you love forests, you probably like trees as well. You can even enjoy the communication of a large poplar tree on our university campus. This tree is connected to a sensor that sends messages about the amount of water flowing through its vessels and about how quickly it is growing. You can see how it deals with hot, dry days without enough water, the conditions in which it grows best.

It is tweeting from the account @TreeWatchWUR. Right now it is rather quiet, but keep an eye on it because the sun is starting to shine. And trees love sunshine. In the summer you can see the sap moving and how it shrinks and swells during a 24 period – imagine that going on in every tree in a forest. You have to love it!

Twittering tree

Learning from forests: research into sustainable forest management

The data this tree gathers actually has a serious purpose; it is helping researchers to better understand the interaction between tree growth and extreme weather conditions. We can learn from this tree, as we can learn from forests. The Amazon rainforest for example, shows us whilst it is struggling to adapt to climate change, it also has a self-regulating system that is able to stabilise itself during periods of drought. Research as such provides us with information we need to achieve real impact.

It amazes me how much forest-related research with a real ‘impact factor’ we do. We use infra-red, lidar and photographic remote sensing by satellites and drones, to look at the (sometimes huge) impacts of human activities on the structure and composition of forests. Or use the terrestrial laser scanning research which is deriving biophysical parameters to support forest inventory, including an accidental scan of an elephant in a forest in Gabon. Less accidental, we also monitor movement of animals in forests using radio tracking and assess the effect of different management on plants and animals.

So, take a walk in the forest the next chance you get and enjoy the experience it can give you. You may even want to hug a tree.

Lawrence Jones-Walters

Lawrence Jones-Walters

The loss of biodiversity, plant and animal life is one of the greatest modern threats to humanity. As head of the Biodiverse Environment Programme, I want to make a positive difference for planet and people, and contribute to delivering the goals of environmental sustainability. Together with researchers, farmers, foresters, practitioners, policy makers, and many influential networks, we work on nature-based solutions for a greener world.

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