Afforestation is a process in which land is converted into forest. Afforestation usually refers to the planting of trees in areas that have not previously held forests. However, trees are also often planted in deforested areas, a process sometimes referred to as reafforestation. Thus, afforestation can be for commercial purposes or to replace previously lost forest.
Trees may be planted to provide firewood in countries where it is used as a fuel, or to provide timber and wood pulp, according to the Talk Talk Encyclopedia. The advantage of afforestation in these instances is that it prevents existing forest, which harbours a variety of organisms and often forms biodiversity hot spots, from being destroyed. Therefore, delicate ecosystems are not affected as the new trees, which have been specifically planted for commercial purposes, are the only ones cut down.
Replacing Lost Forest
Forest loss is a major global issue. Deforestation occurs usually in response to agriculture and logging operations, with an area of forest the size of Panama lost each year, according to National Geographic. Deforestation has a negative effect on the environment, through loss of large areas of habitat in biodiversity hot spots such as the Amazon River Basin, and through its impact on global emissions. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas associated with global warming, countering the carbon dioxide emissions from industries around the world. However, with the loss of greater areas of forest, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to increase. Therefore, replanting of trees through afforestation practices can help reduce the impact of carbon dioxide emissions, in addition to limiting the overall loss of habitat.
Afforestation is often used as a river management technique. Trees are planted on bare land to stabilise river banks and soils. The trees also provide new habitat for wildlife and help to prevent surface runoff, through greater interception of rainwater before it reaches the river channel. Afforestation is advantageous as a river management technique, because it is relatively cheap and enhances the environmental quality of the drainage basin, according to the BBC Bitesize website.
Disadvantages of Afforestation
Despite the many advantages of afforestation, there are also disadvantages, sometimes making afforestation a controversial issue. In the U.K. for example, afforestation is taking place in several areas to counter the loss of many ancient forests. However, the new plantations often simply consist of conifers, whereas the forests that have been lost usually contained a diverse mix of tree species. Therefore, there is a loss of biodiversity as the new trees fail to replace the more ecologically diverse tree species that supported a greater quantity of wildlife. Also, according to the Talk Talk Encyclopedia, the new plantations are believed to acidify the soil, which can affect plant growth.