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Forests cover around a third of all land on Earth. They are our planet’s ‘lungs’, taking in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. By means of photosynthesis, trees store the carbon and give back the oxygen.

Natural forests are also like living cities. They provide the vital infrastructure for some of the planet’s most diverse collections of life, along with 60 million people.

By absorbing carbon dioxide and heat, natural forests help to cool our planet. When intact, trees can influence rainfall patterns and reduce flood peaks, as well as helping to refill our ground water stores. Their roots bind the soil and reduce erosion, while removing harmful pollutants from it. They are also a source of remedies, products and livelihoods.

In short, natural forests are essential to life.

In South Africa, 0.4% of the country’s landmass is covered by natural forests – around half a million hectares (ha) with a further 39 million ha covered by savannah woodland systems.

Together, our natural forests and savannah woodland systems contribute to the conservation of South Africa’s biodiversity, the protection of our soil and the purification of watercourses. They also provide recreational outlets for all people to enjoy.

Timber plantations are by no means natural forests. However, farmed trees perform similar ecosystem services. They also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their leaves, roots and wood. This carbon remains stored in products that are made from wood. And just like natural forests, they release oxygen and offer a wealth of recreation opportunities.

Arbor Month case study
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Arbor Day originated from the treeless plains of Nebraska, America, in 1872. It was here that Mr J. Sterling Morton persuaded the local agricultural board to set aside a day for planting trees. Using his position as editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper, he encouraged participation in the event by publishing articles on the value of trees for soil protection, fruit, shade and building materials. Within two decades Arbor Day, named after Mr Morton’s home Arbor Lodge (also a leafy shady recess formed by trees and shrubs), was celebrated in every US State and territory.

South Africa has been a relative late comer to the Arbor Day celebrations, with its first official Arbor Day in 1983. The event captured the imagination of thousands of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees. By 1999, collective enthusiasm for the importance of Arbor Day in South Africa inspired the national government, to extend Arbor Day to National Arbor Week and now Arbor Month.

During the first week in September schools, businesses and organisations are encouraged to participate in community “greening’ events to improve the health and beauty of their local environment.

Every year two trees (one common the other rare) are chosen as the ‘Trees
of the Year’. The aim is to encourage people to plant these across the country so that they are not lost to us and future generations.

When discussing the benefits of natural forests, commercial plantations are often ignored. Plantation forests provide many of the same environmental services as their natural counterparts and also contribute to the economy and the need for job opportunities in the rural areas.

click here to learn more about Arbor Month as a .PDF

Case study compiled 2018
Source: Forestry Explained

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Click here: Getting to know South Africa’s forests infographic