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'Forest Hero' Shigeatsu Hatakeyama. © Ryo Murakami/UNU
Dec 2011

Forests 'activate' coastal seas

Already decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leech acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. And when plankton thrives, so does the rest of the food chain. [1]

This was put into good practice by Japanese fisherman Mr Shigeatsu Hatakeyama who inherited an oyster farm business from his parents. But the waters in Kesennuma Bay in Miyagi, Japan, had become unsuitable for oyster cultivation after an outbreak of red tide plankton. On a trip to France in 1984, Mr Hatakeyama saw healthy oysters in the Loire river estuary and noticed a vast deciduous broadleaf forest upriver. He made the connection and he realized the positive influence forests have on ocean ecology and biodiversity.

Back home, he held the first Mori wa Umi no Koibito (Forests are Lovers of the Sea) campaign in 1989: with other fishermen he planted broadleaf trees upstream along the Okawa River to reduce pollutants flowing into the sea. These afforestation activities became an annual event and have since gained momentum – so far, more than 50,000 trees have been planted. It has led to a region-wide proactive movement to preserve the environment, including water drainage regulation and promoting farming practices with less agricultural chemicals. [2] [3]

Mr Hatakeyama became known as 'Grandpa Oyster' after spending more than twenty years developing the forest that keeps the Okawa River clean and his thriving oysters healthy.
In 2009, he established another Forests are Lovers of the Sea programme which provides hands-on education for children, bringing them closer to the ocean and the forest.

He has now received a Forest Heroes Award from the UN International Year of Forests 2011 committee.

[1] Jim Robbins, Why Trees Matter, NY Times, April 11, 2012
[2] Asia & Japan Watch
[3] UN Forest Heroes Award

Francis of Assisi, oil painting by Lodovico Cigoli, 1597/9. © Creative Commons License
Aug 2011

UK Catholics: The Call to Creation

'The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it.'
-- Genesis 2:15, cited by Catholics who see humanity's role as being stewards of nature, not its masters.

'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.'
-- Genesis 1:31, cited by Pope John Paul II in 1990 to show that God entrusted Creation to human care.

'The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales wishes to add its voice to the many calling for urgent action to protect our earthly home from further destruction.'

'A way of life that disregards and damages God's creation, forces the poor into greater poverty, and threatens the right of future generations to a healthy environment and to their fair share of the earth's wealth and resources, is contrary to the vision of the Gospel.'

Video: The Canticle of the Creatures – A prayer by St Francis of Assisi
This recited text is an edited version of: 'The Call of Creation: God's Invitation and the Human Response', first published in 2002.

We are partners in God's creative enterprise, called to 'renew the face of the earth' until there is peace and harmony, sparkling life-giving water, the 'trees of life' that give health and the messianic banquet that can be shared by all the inhabitants of the earth. Then 'the curse of destruction will be abolished' (Revelation 22:1-3).

Read more:
ARC – Faiths and Ecology
Pope tackles issues of ecology and energy use (Dec 2006)

Buddhist monks in northwest Cambodia ordaining a tree. © Equator Initiative
Oct 2010

Buddhist monks ordain trees as monks

In response to widespread logging, the monks of the Samraong Pagoda acquired legal protection for 18,261 hectares (45,000 acres) of evergreen forest in northwest Cambodia. They established patrol teams, demarcated the forest's boundaries, and raised environmental awareness among local communities. The monks have developed unique approaches to law enforcement based on Buddhist principles, demonstrating the power of linking conservation with traditional customs and beliefs. [1]

In Buddhist thought and teaching (based particularly on the Lotus Sutra) the Buddha can take any form to bring about the release of any aspect of nature from suffering – including taking the shape of a tree. Based upon this and in response to the illegal destruction of trees in Cambodia and Thailand, Buddhist monks working in partnership with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), have ordained trees as monks. Wrapped in robes these trees are totally protected and the forest within which they stand becomes a sacred and protected area. [2]

The monks of the Samraong Pagoda received the 2010 Equator Prize for outstanding community efforts to conserve biodiversity. The award is sponsored by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Monk's Community Forest is now Cambodia's largest community forest. While logging and hunting are prohibited, villagers may use traditional fishing methods, collect fallen timber for construction, and harvest non-timber forest products like bamboo, wild ginger, fruit and mushrooms. Illegal logging of the forest has been reduced significantly.

Watch video and download full report here.

Logo der Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall
June 2010

The Great Green Wall of Africa

The Great Green Wall (French: Grande Muraille verte) Spanish Gran Muralla Verde is a project to halt the spread of the South Sahara. The transcontinental belt is planned to be 15km (nine miles) wide and 7,775km (4,831 miles) long and will be made completely of trees. This equals the reforestation of 15 million hectares of land.

The project is held by the African Union and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF)*. An inter states organization was established to effectively implement the project in each of the eleven member states.

* The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is an independent financial organization uniting 182 member governments, in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector, to address global environmental issues. According to their website, they are the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment, having allocated US$8.8 billion, supplemented by US$38.7 billion in co-financing, to more than 2,400 projects in more than 165 countries.

Landkarte Sahel

On 17 June 2010, the GEF announced that Africa's green barrier will be funded by a US$119 million grant. The project had long been searching for funding: it had begun to take shape in 2005, the idea first appeared in 2002 and can be traced back to projects fighting desertification in Burkina Faso under president Thomas Sankara. Inspirations are the (more decentrally organized) Green Belt Movement initiated by Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and the Green Wall of China (see tree news Jan. 2010).

source: Great Green Wall website

Tamarisk trees (Tamarix articulata) in the Sahara. © RosaFrei/
Jan 2010

Great Green Wall of China is growing

The Great Green Wall of China is the biggest afforestation project in the history of humankind. The 'Wall' is going to be a woodland belt about 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long which is hoped to halt the desertification of whole regions of China. 28 per cent of the land surface of China is threatened by desertification, which jeopardizes the livelihood of 100 million people. Gigantic dust storms sweep over vast areas bordering the Gobi Desert (located in the north of the country. Extending desert heat has already risen average temperatures in Peking by a few degrees Celsius. Japan, North Korea and South Korea too suffer from sand storms coming over from China.

The reasons for desertification are, like in the other continents, anthropogenic, i.e. human-made:
• increased land use overburdens the soil, depleting it of nutrients and breaking down its structure;
• overgrazing and deforestation decrease plant cover, the ground loses its firmness and becomes subject to erosion by wind and rain;
• since the foundation of the People's Republic in 1949, industrialization has shown an ever-increasing hunger for fuel which has been satisfied by tree felling (until 1978, forest cover in China had fallen from eight to five per cent!);
• growing water consumption of the industry, agriculture and increasing population contributes further to the desertification of vast areas.

Forests are generally perceived as the best countermeasure against desertification of entire regions.
The work on the Green Wall of China began in 1978. So far, protective forests have been planted in thirteen provinces of China, covering 22 million hectares (220,000 sq. km – the size of the main island of Britain; the size of Kansas or Idaho) altogether. This already prevents 200 million tons of desert sand from spreading onto non-desert land annually. But an actual inversion of the annual desert area increase could not be measured until the years from 2000 to 2004.
In 2009, China's afforestation program had increased forest cover to 18 per cent of the republic's land area.
In 2050, the Green Wall of China is scheduled to be completed, with a total area of 35 million hectares (350.000 sq. km).

Because monocultures can easily succumb to pests and diseases, the focus is on mixed woodlands. But pastures too are considered a part fo the Green Wall. The Chinese people are legally obligated to direct participation: every citizen between 11 and 60 years of age has to plant three to five trees annually (or pay a fine).

In 2003, China began to restructure its forest sector. Now, single farmers are allowed to lease woodlands and get their rights certified on paper. The leaseholders are now registered as the owners of the trees they planted. They are entitled to manage these youg woodlands, with certain restrictions. In this way the reform has created an incentive for farmers to invest in tree planting. [1]

The genus Tamarix deserves special mention in the fight against the desert. The tamarisk has been called the guard soldier of the desert because it is resistent against sand storms and even grows on salt or chalk soils. Already in the 1960s the botanist Prof Liu Mingting researched and cultivated tamarisks – and planted
them on 100,000 hectares of saline desert and semi-desert in Kashgar Prefecture (Xinjiang). Since then, the ground has become fertile soil again, corn and cotton are grown widely, and the income per head has risen fourfold. [2] (compare tree news June 2009: Amazon deforestation fails to improve local life)

[1] Wikipedia about the Great Green Wall of China
[2] Ein Tamarisken-Forscher (German)
see also tree news: The Great Green Wall of Africa

conifer forest in the Altai Mountains. © Seth Judd
Aug 2008

Hope for the Taiga

There has been a lot of concern for the Russian Taiga, particularly since the change in Russian forestry law in early 2007 in many respects puts timber trade well above conservation.

On the other hand, since 2004 a number of Russian institutions became concerned that the value of the Siberian forest was not properly understood. They looked to the certification schemes of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) but then teamed up with a number of UK groups* to create an action plan. In 2005, Darwin Initiative funding was gained, and with The Tree Council initially taking the lead, a three-year project began.

* The Tomsk Taiga project involved The Tree Council, the British Trust for Ornithology, Cambridge University Expeditions Society, Pricebatch (Altai-UK), Traidcraft and WTA Education Services Ltd.

Since then, the Kaltaiskii Forest in the Tomsk province has been designated as a model for FSC application, and six further sites within the area are in the process of being given Special Protected Area status. FSC principles are being applied to the Forest Plan of the Tomsk region.

Other targets include identifying areas of high biodiversity to gain further protection, to carry out ecological surveys and monitoring, to support the existing community-based harvesting of sustainable forest products, to raise awareness of the value of the forest, and to develop eco-tourism.

The Taiga, also known as boreal forest, is a belt of dominantly coniferous forest which makes up a third of the world's total forest area. The term is Russian, but this type of forest covers large regions of North America, Europe and Russia/Siberia itself. The main trees are spruce (Picea), fir (Abies), pine (Pinus) and larch (Larix), with a few deciduous trees like alder and aspen.

source: TreeNews, Issue 15, Autumn/Winter 2008, pp26-7

diagram displaying the characteristics of the world's forests. © FRA 2005
Jan 2006

The global forest situation 2005

Since 1946, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has regularly published its Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). FRA 2005 compares the 2005 data with those from 2000 and 1995. Here are some of the results.


Total forest

The total forest area was judged to be just under 4 billion hectares – 30 per cent of the total land area of the Earth. However, this is more than a little euphemistic, as the FAO defines a 'forest area' as being half an acre or more of land of which at least ten per cent is under tree cover. Thus, any small field with a hedge around becomes a forest! Indeed this is a major point of contention and international criticism of the FAO reports and should not be forgotten regarding the following numbers.

Ten countries with the largest forest area (2005)


Deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year. On the other hand, landscape restoration, forest planting and natural expansion has increased to about 5.7 million hectares, leaving the total forest area 'net loss' at 7.3 million hectares. Again, there is a hidden euphemism, as the destruction of (dense) primary, old-growth forest cannot just be offset against planting seedlings, creating commercial plantation or even using cloned plants. Africa and South America had the largest net loss of forests. Asia had a net gain, primarily due to large-scale reforestation in southeastern China.


Primary forests

On average, 36 per cent of the world's forest area is still composed of primary forests, defined by FAO as 'forests of native species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and where the ecological processes are not significantly disturbed'. The rapid decrease continued at some six million hectares annually from 2000 through to 2005.

Characteristics of the world's forests (2005)


Protective forests

About 348 million hectares (nine per cent of the total) provide protection, either from erosion, dropping of the groundwater table, drought, flooding, desertification, avalanches or even tsunamis.


Tree diversity

The biodiversity levels vary widely between regions – naturally, there are fewer species towards the poles and increasingly more towards the equator. Hence, there are three native tree species in Iceland but about 7,780 in Brazil.

In most regions, the ten most common species comprise more than 50 per cent of the total forest cover, the exceptions are the tropical forests.

Number of native tree species (2005)



In 2005, eleven per cent of the world's forests were designated for the conservation of biological diversity, an increase by an estimated 96 million hectares since 1990. Conservation has been reported as one of the main targets in forest management plans for more than 25 per cent of the world's forest area. If only illegal – and legal! – logging would show respect for the status of conservation areas!

Functions of forests (2005)


The annual report can be downloaded in full from the FAO website.