Tiny Forests Are Springing Up All Around Europe, Inspired By Japan, to Help Restore Biodiversity

Using the methods of Japan’s most famous botanist, European countries are beginning to dot their urban landscapes with tiny forests, as productive and biodiverse as any in wilderness areas, yet sometimes only as big as a tennis court.

The idea is that volunteers can plant densely-packed clusters of seedlings from indigenous plants to create a small functional ecosystem that can restore soil, protect resources like water and air quality, and act as a biodiversity hotspot that can have a measurable effect on both the local and regional environment.

Akira Miyawaki was the botanist who in 1970 observed that trees around Japan’s Shinto and Buddhist shrines tended to be native species, well-adapted to the soil and climate of the islands of Japan.

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He later found that only 0.06% of contemporary Japanese forests were indigenous forests, with the sizable remainder populated by non-native tree species, or planted in unnatural ways.

He pioneered a method of restoring indigenous forests on degraded or deforested land which had been devoid of humus. It came to be known as the Miyawaki method. Using this formula he created over 1,700 forests throughout Asia, 96.7% of which developed into a resilient ecosystem within ten years.

Miyawaki in Europe

Growing more than 10x faster, and possessing up to 20x more biodiversity potential than contemporary forests, the Miyawaki method is perfect for organizations like Urban Forests in France and Belgium, and the Tiny Forest initiative in Holland, with their strong desire to prevent the worst of climate change upon their nations’ relatively small landmass.

Urban Forest in Belgium – Instagram @urbanforestsbelgium

On March 2nd Urban Forests finished a 22-species, 1,200-tree Miyawaki forest in Toulouse, France, planted on 400 square meters—the first such forest in Toulouse.

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“The plantations are made in a very dense way, in order to favor the cooperation between the species,” Audrey, one of Urban Forests’ volunteers explained to Actu Toulouse. “It captures more CO2 and trees grow up to ten times faster than in a conventional forest.”

It’s just one of many Urban Forests’ projects, and the fifth that the nonprofit has completed this year. In total their Miyawaki forests across Belgium and France consist of 21,000 trees over 7,000 square meters.

The Tiny Forest Initiative started in 2015 in the Dutch city of Zaandam by the Institute for Nature Education and Sustainability (IVN), has created 100 Miyawaki forests across the country, and had planned an additional 30 for the first three months of 2020.

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In 2017, ecologists at Wageningen University in Holland examined the newly planted mini-forests and concluded that tiny forests “increase the biodiversity compared to the nearby forest. Both the number of species groups and the number of individuals is generally higher than in the reference forests.”

They also found that biodiversity was improved because sunlight was able to reach more species of local plants known to local pollinators. The forests also provided “more variety in food and shelter for a higher diversity of animals like insects, snails, butterflies, amphibians, bugs, grasshoppers.”

“This is a great thing to do,” said wildlife researcher Eric Dinerstein in a recent scientific publication. “So this could be another aspect for suburban and urban areas, to create wildlife corridors through contiguous ribbons of mini-forest.”

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Pakistan Hires Thousands of Newly-Unemployed Laborers for Ambitious 10 Billion Tree-Planting Initiative

Although the novel coronavirus pandemic has driven thousands of workers into unemployment, the Pakistani government has found a way to provide jobs to their citizens while also reforesting the nation.

According to Reuters, Pakistan has created more than 63,000 jobs for unemployed day laborers by relaunching the nation’s ambitious 10 Billion Tree Tsunami campaign.

The 5-year initiative, which was started by Prime Minister Imran Khan back in 2018, was temporarily shut down in mid-March as a result of the country’s quarantine. With thousands of agricultural workers facing unemployment amidst the lockdowns, however, the program was relaunched earlier this month.

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The laborers, who are still required to wear face masks and respect social distancing guidelines, are now being given daily living wages as “jungle workers” planting saplings and protecting the trees from fires and illegal logging. The Pakistani government has reportedly been planting the majority of these trees in rural, low-income areas where locals can benefit from the work.

The nation’s environmental ministers go on to say they hope to hire three times as many workers as last year in order to meet their goal of planting 20 million saplings by the end of 2020, bringing the project’s total to 50 million trees.

This is not the first time that the nation has made headlines for planting trees; the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami is a continuation of another extensive tree-planting government effort which resulted in more than 300,000 new jobs and millions of saplings planted across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2017.

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Now Malik Amin Aslam, who is the climate change adviser for the prime minister, told Reuters that legislators hope to continue using the pandemic as a tool to ramp up their efforts against climate change.

“This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it,” Aslam told the news outlet in a phone interview. “Nurturing nature has come to the economic rescue of thousands of people.”

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

File photo by Junaid Ali, CC

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Happy 60th Birthday to Madagascar! World’s Most Biodiverse Island Gets Gift of 60 Million Trees

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the nation of Madagascar held its largest ever tree-planting ceremony, with a million seedlings going into the ground in just a few hours after the speeches concluded. The country is preparing to plant a million trees for each year of its six decade history.

“The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations,” said President Andy Rajoelina at the January launch event in Ankazobe district, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.

According to two Madagascar writers published at Mongabay, the highly-publicized campaign comes one year after Rajoelina’s election on a platform that promised to “Make  Madagascar green again.” It is the culmination of months of hard work by many organizations amassing around 100 million seeds to place into cultivated nursery beds—with schools, NGOs, government ministries, and even the army lending a helping hand.

Some officials supporting the project worry there won’t be enough follow-up to ensure the trees make it to adulthood, but Madagascar’s environment minister vowed to provide support.

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“This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up,” said Alexandre Georget. “The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants.”

This is the world’s oldest island and a country of unparalleled biodiversity, but it is often scored as one of the worst nations for deforestation, with 40% of its forest cover lost since 1940. Most rural populations can’t make money from the incredibly unique forest ecosystem, so the trees are the first to go, when islanders need to make a living.

– Lemur, Mobile Library Project

That’s one of the reasons the environmental ministry and partners are planting trees that bear fruit and spices which can be harvested for export.

Recent movements turned to education, government protections of land, and the training of rural communities to regard themselves as forest protectors, which have all helped slow the decline of forests and exotic wildlife populations like the 100 species of lemur that are found only on this island.

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But rigorous reforestation is also needed to support these exotic creatures, so the country is stepping up. It is including some fast-growing non-native species which do pose a risk to the high bio-diversity of flora in the region, but also could go a long way towards achieving a financially stable relationship between the trees and the Malagasy who live under them.

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What Can One Person Do in 10 Years? This Man Planted 152 Million Mangrove Trees

“Here we have a burgeoning (mangrove) leaf. You take it and you plant the lower third in the mud, and then you take 2 steps—one, two, and then you plant another one,” said the retired politician, with a smile ear to ear, as he wades in the murky coastal waters of Senegal’s Casamance Delta.

Planting since 2009, Haidar el Ali’s efforts have produced one of the most stunning successes in the history of modern large-scale reforestation—the restoration of an entire Senegalese mangrove swamp.

Forests are one of the most resilient habitats on our planet while also being one of the most exploited. Ever since the scientific community began to encourage the planting of trees to ‘re-wild’ previously lost forest ecosystems to respond to climate change, some very determined members of the human race have rolled up their sleeves and produced remarkable results.

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As Senegal’s former Minister of Ecology (and later Fisheries), the 67-year-old was able to rally citizens from the local coastal population to help him plant 152 million mangrove buds by hand, and it created a truly beautiful coastal mangrove forest stretching hundreds of square miles—one of the largest of its kind in the world.

A Paradise for Crabs—and Environmental Ministers

Recently, Jean Francois Bastin et al. estimated that 2.4 billion acres of additional forest cover on the earth (1B hectares) would suck 25% of all the carbon currently being pumped into the atmosphere. Science like this was in large part responsible for the World Economic Forum’s launch of the Trillion Trees vision.

Because they store immense amounts of carbon in their submerged root systems, mangroves and other bodies of coastal vegetation are some of our planet’s most important ecosystems. They help filter river mud runoff from entering the sea, while absorbing the brunt of tidal waves and tsunamis. And they also provide some of the most valuable habitat for near-shore wildlife including birds, insects, invertebrates, crustaceans, reptiles, fish, and even monkeys.

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In a video interview with BBC, Haidar described how the original mangrove forest in Southern Senegal was disrupted in the 80s and 90s as the nation began to build roads which diverted or ended the flow of rivers. “At the time there were no environmental impact studies, of course.”

2008 photo of Haidar by Serigne Diagne, CC license

Next came the lumbermen who clear-cut the coastal mangroves. It wasn’t, as Haidar explains, until the salt from the sea water entering the delta poisoned the nearby rice fields that people began to think about replacing what had been lost.

WATCH: Man Succeeds Where Government Fails—He Planted a Forest in the Middle of a Cold Desert

Though nearing his seventh decade of life, Haidar swims butterfly stroke through the water-borne forest of his and his colleagues’ making, pointing out the presence of returning wildlife as a boon to the local economy.

“The mangrove is a fantastic ecosystem that attracts rain—and it is well known scientifically that this mud captures methane, and that these leaves capture CO2,” he explains.

“I take a lot of satisfaction from this. I’m ready to do it every day, all evening, all my life.”

(WATCH the heartwarming BBC video below… [NOTE: BBC only has video, no full article)

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Wales is Building a National Forest That Will Span the Length and Breadth of the Country

As a particularly mystical part of Great Britain that is home to a rich collection of folkloric fables (they even have a dragon on their flag), Wales is exactly the place you’d want to go if you were looking to find an enchanted woodland.

Now, a new initiative led by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is set to turn a large part of Wales back into the kind of magical place described in their beloved history.

The Welsh government is now working to plant a national forest that would run the length and breadth of the land, connecting existing protected woodland environments with large scale tree-planting projects meant to restore natural Wales and fight climate change.

“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate, but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face,” Drakeford said.

Additionally, ancient hardwood forests of Europe provide other valuable ecosystem services like the storing of carbon from the atmosphere in their roots. These deep root systems also secure the soil and prevent erosion which can degrade local waterways and shorelines.

The forests will also provide habitat for endangered iconic Welsh animals, like the black grouse, Scottish wildcat, red squirrel, and the magnificent capercaillie.

Capercaillie by David Palmer, CC license

“The National Forest will be a Wales-wide asset, and communities across the country will be able to take part,” said Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn.

The inspiration for the project was drawn from a hiking trail that attracts millions of tourists every year called the Wales Coast Path—and the maps will be drawn up over the coming months by businesses, landowners, and other interested parties.

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£5 million ($5.7 million) has been allocated to complete the project, while another £10 million will go towards accompanied tree-planting programs through the Glastir farm grants program.

The Glastir Grants are one of a number of pieces of legislation meant to put a stop to diminishing natural wilderness, resources, and wildlife in the country while also attempting to modernize the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.

Farmers can apply for Glastir grants if they undertake tree-planting operations, or projects that prevent flooding, secure and regenerate soil quality or wildlife, or improve the farming and husbandry standards for domesticated animals and plants—and even when they restore heritage tourism opportunities.

RELATED: Scientists Use Recycled Sewage Water to Grow 500-Acre Forest in the Middle of Egyptian Desert

File photo by Chris Downer, CC

Getting Underway

Mr. Drakeford visited Gnoll Country Park in Neath, where the UK’s Woodland Trust is currently creating the largest new woodland in the charity’s history called the Brynau Wood, saying it will be an “amazing place for people to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise” as well as a mark towards a “healthier, more resilient environment”.

This is just one of a handful of large-scale projects aimed at restoring or protecting Welsh wilderness. Last week, work began on planting 1 million seagrass seeds off the Welsh coast in order to restore Welsh seagrass beds—a coastal marine plant that soaks up many times more carbon than trees.

“While the plan to create a National Forest for Wales is a Welsh government initiative, the Woodland Trust is very much in support of this,” Rory Francis, Communications Officer at Woodland Trust told GNN. “We were actually working to promote the idea even before the Welsh government and the First Minister personally, adopted the idea.”

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Brynau Wood is not Woodland Trust’s first foray into Welsh forests. In 2016 they purchased one of the country’s oldest woodlands, the Coed Felinrhyd rainforest in Snowdonia, an ancient oak forest dating from the last ice age and named in Mabinogion—the 12th century Welsh mythological story.

Woodland Trust also manages another forest called Coed y Felin, a new native-species woodland where announcement of the project was celebrated on March 12, as an example of what kind of forests will be included in the national forest.

Speaking to BBC, Prof. Mary Gagen, a climate scientist at the University of Swansea said that the national forest project was a genuinely positive announcement.

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“But what’s great is that this project also looks at habitat restoration, at retaining the trees we have at the moment, protecting our ancient forests and connecting areas so wildlife can use them,” she said.

Currently the government plans to start planting at a rate of 4,900 acres a year, increasing quickly to 10,000 acres per year.

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King of Bhutan Celebrated His 40th Birthday By Asking Citizens to Plant Trees or Adopt an Animal

With Bhutan being ranked one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, the king of the small nation asked his people to celebrate his most recent birthday in the most perfect way.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck turned 40 years old on February 21st. Rather than ask for gifts, however, he told the people of Bhutan to either plant a tree, adopt a stray animal, or clean up their neighborhood in his honor.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced the heartwarming wish to the world during a series of birthday celebrations and festivities at Changlimithang Stadium, saying “personal commitment such as this … would be the best gift for His Majesty.”

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This is not the first time that the King has asked his people to plant trees on his behalf—back in May 2016, he and his wife celebrated the birth of their firstborn son by asking each of the nation’s households to plant a sapling, resulting in more than 108,000 trees planted.

Since the King and Queen are also now expecting the arrival of a second child this spring, the nation is quite likely to rejoice with an equally green ritual.

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If You Buy a Sapling For This Rainforest, Money Goes to Turn Illegal Loggers Into Forest Guardians

We can take shorter showers. We can try to recycle our plastic. We can make sure to turn the lights off in our homes at night. But the sense of urgency in the face of our climate crisis leaves some people discouraged because there isn’t more they can do.

For 13 years, however, Health in Harmony has been offering caring citizens of the world a way to reduce their impact on the environment—a chance to minimize, or even neutralize, their carbon footprint in ways that benefit so much more than just the CO2 equation.

The intrepid nonprofit is allowing people to buy personal carbon-offsets and using the money to benefit rural communities in Borneo and Madagascar. The brilliance behind their program is the way it addresses the locals in and around these tropical rainforests who are both impoverished, and living nearby some of the most important and vulnerable ecosystems on earth—ecosystems that if lost could place the goal of overcoming our impact on climate forever beyond our reach.

Tropical rainforests are the Fort Knox of carbon storage, as well as bastions of biodiversity. Many tracts, like Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo have been hit hard by slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging, because struggling locals look for ways to make money and feed their families.

Based in Portland, Oregon, Health In Harmony offers people worldwide the opportunity to buy tropical tree seedlings that, when matured, will sequester a certain amount of carbon per year. But the impact here is profound.

According to an article in Fast Company, during its first ten years the program achieved 90% reduction in logging activities within households where the nonprofit was operating. This resulted in an astonishing regrowth of 52,000 acres of rainforest.

Photo courtesy of Health In Harmony

Kinari Webb, founder of Health In Harmony explained that 95 trees will offset the carbon emitted by an average American—while planting them ensures the survival of one of the most biodiverse places on earth.

WATCH: First Drone Project of Its Kind in Canada is Aiming to Plant 1 Billion Trees by 2028

With the group’s carbon-offset calculator, you can enter in key contributors in your own personal carbon footprint such as how much gasoline you use, or how many miles you’ve flown on airlines, and the calculator will come up with the cost of that carbon footprint as it relates to buying seedlings to be planted in Borneo and Madagascar.

According to Webb a monthly donation of $31.00 is likely enough to make you a carbon-neutral citizen.

And, to assuage your skepticism about reforestation efforts that don’t ensure saplings’ survival, Webb says that during the first 3 years, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and fire prevention are regularly provided for the trees. Over their first 10 sites they’ve seen a survival rate of 80%.

They diversify, using over 100 native tree species and indigenous fruit trees, while also compensating for failure by planting more than is needed to account for tree death during infancy and adolescence. These steps ensure that the full biodiversity compliment of the jungle can return even in the plantations. But, that is just the beginning.

CHECK OUT: For First Time Ever, Scientists Identify How Many Trees to Plant and Where to Plant Them to Stop Climate Crisis

Not Just Planting Trees, Transforming Villages

Photo by ASRI Kids / Nina Finley

Part of the money from your carbon offset purchases also provides healthcare, sustainable agriculture training, and economic empowerment for the villages near Gunung Palung National Park.

A “green credit” system allows the residents who work to reduce illegal logging to receive discounts of up to 70% on medical services at the medical facilities of Health In Harmony’s partner on the group  ASRI.  They can even pay for medical care with things like tree seedlings, artisan goods, and manure.

MORE: People Have Passively Planted Over 30 Million Trees Simply by Surfing the Web

ASRI also works with village chiefs to nominate a Forest Guardian. Respected members of their community, the Forest Guardians are trained by ASRI to work with illegal loggers to try and convince them to put down their chainsaws. They spread awareness of alternative ways of generating income while earning discounts on medical services for themselves and their neighbors.

Sustainable modern agriculture techniques are replacing slash and burn methods which have been destroying the rainforest while yielding fewer crops. In 2018, locals were producing more crops for their families and selling the remainder for additional income. In July 2018, Health In Harmony’s Kitchen Gardens, and Goats for Widows projects allowed women at home to generate their own income from farming small plots of land or keeping goats whose manure and milk helped wives who had lost their husbands to stay afloat financially.

Next Up: Madagascar and Her Lemurs

Beyond a second, even larger, Indonesia site called Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, which is a critical sanctuary for orangutans, Health In Harmony has expanded its operations to another biodiversity mecca: Madagascar.

RELATED: Scientists Use Recycled Sewage Water to Grow 500-Acre Forest in the Middle of Egyptian Desert

Madagascar’s forests are massively at risk from logging and agriculture, and with them almost 100 species of lemur, the charismatic primate found nowhere else on earth.

In the autumn of 2019, Health In Harmony began setting up reforestation, healthcare, agricultural training, and more in Manombo Special Reserve, a 14,300-acre protected area in southeast Madagascar, home to nine species of lemur—all of which are threatened with extinction.

Health In Harmony is proving that any concerned citizen can do far more than recycle to prevent climate change, and that the power of their dollar can help a lot more lifeforms than humans and trees.

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World’s Last Known ‘Dinosaur Trees’ Saved From Australian Bushfires Thanks to Determined Firefighters

Conservationists are celebrating the success of a mission to save the world’s last remaining “dinosaur trees” from the Australian bushfires.

The ancient Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct until a small grouping of the prehistoric trees was discovered in the mountains roughly 124 miles northwest (200 kilometers) of Sydney back in 1996.

Fossil records show that the pines existed as far back as 200 million years ago—and since these 200 trees are the only known Wollemi Pines left in the wild, their location has remained a closely-kept secret in order to ensure their protection.

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When Australian legislators heard that the bushfires—which have been raging across New South Wales since September—were edging closer to the Wollemi grove, a team of specialized firefighters was airlifted onto the scene.

“These pines outlived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realized we had to do everything we could to save them,” said New South Wales state Environment Minister Matt Kean.

Just one week before the fires hit the surrounding forests, the firefighters sprayed the trees with fire retardant and installed an irrigation system to keep the area moist. As the fire drew closer, air tankers dumped water around the perimeter of the grove and kept the flames at bay.

LOOK: Thousands of Aussies Are Heartened by Photos of Charred Landscapes Already Recovering From Bushfires

Although a few of the dinosaur trees were lightly singed by the blaze, the safety measures successfully protected the grove—and the surrounding fires were reportedly contained earlier this week.

Richard Kingsford, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, hailed the firefighting success to The Sydney Morning Herald: “This is such a remarkable species in terms of ecology and evolution … and only found in Australia.”

“It’s something like the Opera House of the natural world,” he added. “Losing it would have added to the catastrophe we have seen elsewhere.”

(WATCH the AFP news coverage below) – Photo by AFP News Agency

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