The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago..

..and the second best time is now.

There is currently more Carbon Dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere than there has ever been in human history; contributing to rising temperatures, sea level rise and a change in the Earths climate. To quote one of the greatest environmental influencers of our time, Sir David Attenborough;

“How could I look my grandchildren in the eye and say I knew what was happening to the world and did nothing”

Sir David Attenborough. Photo: Adam Sherwin

One of the most important actions we can take to help mitigate against climate change is the replanting of forests. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere and, combined with the sun’s energy, the captured carbon is stored as biomass.

Recently I went to visit the results of a reforestation project first hand in Madagascar and I’ll tell you what, it’s working. Not only does the result of planting trees have an effect on the composition of the atmosphere, its bringing back whole eco-systems, creating jobs, saving lives and above all.. saving our planet.

A Sifaka Lemur, hanging on to one of the last bits of Madagascan forest. Photo: Pete Oswald

Madagascar is an example of an area which has suffered tremendously as a result of deforestation by human activity. 90% of Madagascar’s forests have gone and the multiple effects are overwhelming. Red top soil is eroding into rivers and fish stocks are being depleted due to run off. The country is bleeding red from it’s rivers out in to the ocean and filling up the estuaries. People are starving because nothing will grow in the now arid land which was once rich forest.

Brookesia micra, the smallest known chameleon and only found in Madagascat. Photo: Pete Oswald

Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world and — given its isolation and separation from other land masses for about 60–80 million years — it has 3 biosphere reserves listed in the UNESCO and it also presents one of the highest numbers of endemic species, both fauna and flora: Madagascar’s various ecosystems are home to more than 250,000 species of plants and animals most of which do not exist anywhere else. (Source)

The majority of Malagasy people are living on less than $2 per day, most of them are just trying to feed their families. This is where an organisation such as Eden Reforestation Projects comes in. A charity set up to replant lost native forest in Madagascar, employing local people and teaching them about the importance of protecting the forest.

A local Malagasy man planting a mangrove propagule. Photo: Sophie Stevens

It used to be that to make a living, many Malagasy people would slash and burn forest in order to make charcoal to sell in sacks for cooking. Eden Reforestation Projects will now pay those people more money for a sack of mangrove propagules, which they can collect from the ground in an old mangrove forest, than they could previously receive for a bag of charcoal. Thus creating a motive for local people to protect the forests which is their (now ongoing) livelihood. Local people are not only employed to collect seeds, transport and plant trees but they are running the whole process. It is overseen by the American charity to avoid corruption but the Malagasy are the supervisors, bosses and in charge of other staff members. Whole communities are employed by the forest and with more and more people relying on these regenerating forests for their income, it is in everyones interest to protect them.

In the areas where mangrove swamp has been replanted, local villages are noticing fish stocks returning, giving the fisherman more food and a better income. With employment from the forests comes dignity and the opportunity for lots of families to send their children to school, thus creating a more educated population and lifting communities out of poverty.

A regenerating mangrove forest. Photo: Pete Oswald

It was very eye-opening to witness the effects of reforestation first hand. It is sometimes hard to imagine from the comfort of our homes, where the money we are donating is ending up but given to the right places, we can make a difference, replant reforests and make an effort to restore what is lost. It feels somewhat overwhelming to restore a huge area which has suffered so much, and that is only one part of the world which has suffered deforestation. What we need to remember is that we have to start somewhere and we have to do something, all of us. Even if it just starts with 1 tree.

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