International Day of Forests - 21 st March, 2023
Healthy Forests for Healthy People
What better way to celebrate World Forest Day I thought, than to go out and spend an hour or two in the bush, especially as this year’s theme is Healthy Forests, Healthy People. It certainly felt that way. The air was fresh. Birds sang. Butterflies fluttered around in the clearing and there were a few fungi about. I was having a lovely time, but alas, on the way back I tripped over a rock and broke my arm. It's really hard for me to write for now, so forgive me if I keep this short - it may also be a bit scrambled, but there are some other thoughts I wanted to share with you about forests. You can also read more here or here.
While not too healthy for me on this occasion, forests do do wonderful things for us. Not only do they provide for many of our physical needs such as food, shelter, medicine and even the air we breathe - but to quote Julia Klöckner, Germany's Minister for Agriculture, at a 2019 summit as to what to do about Germany's severely damaged forests. "Every missing tree is a missing comrade-in-arms against climate
change," According its 10,000 strong union of forestry workers, Germany is estimated to have lost more than 1 million trees due to drought, storms, beetle attack and climate change
since 2018 and is now spending around 800 million Euro ($880 million) to save those which are left.
The Cultural Value of Forests
For Germany though, the loss of its forests is not just about economic loss and ecological loss, but about losing part of its soul. Forests are the backdrop to countless legends and fairy tales, the subject of poetry, music and literature, the place where history was made and the place of spiritual renewal.
Other cultures also have deep connections with their forests. For the Japanese they are regarded as places of healing. Forests also feature prominently in Scandinavian mythology and are said to have inspired the work of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," C.S. Lewis' "Narnia" and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and what would the UK be without Sherwood Forest or even Piglet and Pooh Bear's Hundred Acre Wood?
The USA also has a rich tradition of forest literature starting with John Muir whose writings inspired the conservation movement and the establishment of a National Park in his honour in 1908. He also appreciated the forests for their healing qualities as well as their natural beauty, a sentiment echoed by Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson. Thoreau was another who was greatly moved by living in the forest and then went on to inspire many others.
“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”
- John Muir“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill.”
- John Muir
“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
Canada's extensive forests have also prompted music and art. See for example the songs of Gordon Lightfoot and no doubt other forested regions such as Siberia or Poland's have done so too.
It's also interesting to note that people such as Goethe and the Romantics writing in Germany towards the end of the C19th and the Americans of the same period were both lamenting the rapid disappearance of forests and nature from their lives. In Europe it was about the creeping industrialisation taking over the countryside while in North America it was mostly as a consequence of logging.
|Even dead trees play a role creating light and nutrients for successive generations|
|Note: Most of our fungi are decorative rather than edible, even if they look like edible ones elsewhere|
Contemporary author and journalist Matt Haig attributes Finland's repeated ranking as the world's happiest country to that fact that most of it is still forested.
“Finland is officially the world’s happiest country. It is also 75 per cent forest. I believe these facts are related.”
I'll finish with a couple of quotes about forests from two of my favourite ecologists. If you would like to see more, along with some beautiful photos, see Cat and Joe's Walk my World blog from which I have taken these and make friends with your forest today.
- Sir David Attenborough
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”
- Rachel Carson
A bit of Good News about the Amazon
Good news for the Amazon is good news for the world. President Lula is acting decisively to reverse his predecessor's destructive policies whose ambition was to fully exploit the world's largest forest. Lula is strengthening environmental protections, fighting deforestation and securing pledges from foreign governments so that Brazil's economy is not unduly impacted with Germany being among the first to respond.
Lula is also cracking down on illegal gold mining which has ravaged vast swathes of forest as some 20,000 miners descended on the forest, removing trees, poisoning rivers and soils and taking a terrible toll on the indigenous Yanomani people as well. Germany is now helping local people to create alternative livelihoods such as fish farming.
Illegal mining has also badly affected the Peruvian side of the Amazon. As well as showing the effects of mining and mentioning it's impact on climate far from the site, this video also shows what people are doing about it.The USA and NASA are helping here with research, reafforestation and training of the next generation of young scientists.