Looking up at the canopies of two oak trees

What's so good about trees?

Discover what makes trees so valuable to our environment, economy and wellbeing.
  Published:  28 May 2019    |      Last updated:  05 Nov 2020    |      3 minute read

Trees help combat climate chaos by removing planet-wrecking emissions from the air around us. They also play an invaluable role in our ecosystems, providing home to wildlife and protecting soil and water systems.

But despite their importance, just 12.8% of land in England, close to 20% in Wales and Scotland, and less than 10% in Northern Ireland has tree cover (compared with around 40% in the EU). That's why Friends of the Earth wants to double tree cover before it's too late.

Read on to discover some top facts about what makes trees incredible.

Tree fact 1: Trees combat climate chaos

When it comes to beating the climate emergency, trees are one of our greatest allies.

We’re facing disastrous changes to the climate – extreme weather and sea-level rises that will put millions of lives at risk.

The best chance of stopping this is to urgently reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we’re releasing. It sticks around in the atmosphere, acting like a blanket warming the planet.

Fortunately, trees absorb CO2. They need it to grow. A large English oak, for example, can absorb many hundreds of kilograms of CO2 during its lifetime. While research shows that different species absorb CO2 at different rates depending on where they’re planted, doubling UK tree cover could remove 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere every year.

And in return for all this carbon storage, trees also release oxygen which helps us breathe. That's a real win-win scenario.

photo of new tree plantation on a hillside, Harewood, UK
Planting trees will help nature, soil conservation and combat climate change
Credit: Humphrey Bolton/Creative Commons

Tree fact 2: Trees help wildlife thrive

Trees aren't just home to birds and squirrels.

They're important habitats for all wildlife.

As well as providing a roof, they throw the food in for free. For example, oak trees can support over 280 species of insect, which other animals feast on.

And leaf litter feeds bacteria, fungi, insects, plants and animals.

A forest beetle and a snail on a leaf
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 3: Trees cool and clean the air

Trees filter dangerous pollutants from the air using their leaves and bark.

Air pollution is linked to premature death and respiratory disease, so trees help us by trapping those pollutants.

The London plane is particularly effective at absorbing pollutants from the air, and discards them when it sheds bark, leading to its distinctive mottled appearance. 

And the climate crisis is bringing summer heatwaves, which makes the effects of air pollution even more dangerous to our health. Built up urban areas remain hotter overnight than rural areas, but trees in towns and cities help cool temperatures by up to 5°C.

Plane tree
Plane tree
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 4: Trees talk to each other

Trees are connected by a network of fungi growing in and around their roots.

Using this fungal network, they share resources with each other. Think of it as a communications network – trees logging on to the Wood Wide Web.

Incredible interactions have been observed, such as older trees giving young saplings food to help them grow – and trees under attack (from unfriendly insects) barking out warnings for others to be on guard.

There are a few bad apples though, like the black walnut which spreads toxic chemicals to kill off the competition.

Lots of roots spreading out from a tree
Log on to the Wood Wide Web
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 5: Trees are good for your health

The aspirin you take to relieve pain or reduce a fever originally came from willow bark, although modern aspirin contains a synthetic derivative.

Recent research into the healing properties of trees claims that trees may improve mental health and reduce stress.

As Charlotte Church advises, kick-start your day with a spot of forest bathing.

Tree facts: a woman breathing in the fresh air of the forest
Credit: istock

Tree fact 6: Trees clean water

Trees filter water naturally. During a storm, heavy rainfall runs off flooded land, collecting pollutants and transporting it into our rivers and streams.

Trees help stop this by intercepting the rainfall with their leaves, branches and trunk. Their roots play a part too. They hold the soil in place so that it can withstand heavy rainfall and not get washed away.

Heavy rain falling on trees and a river
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 7: Trees create jobs

From tree surgery to fruit harvesting, and landscaping to green waste management, trees create jobs.

Forestry in Scotland alone is a £1 billion sector employing 25,000 people. That makes it more important economically than fisheries.

And they create indirect job benefits too, such as improving soil quality for agriculture.

Looking up at a canopy of tall trees in a forest
The original skyscrapers have brought food and shelter since the year dot.
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 8: Trees improve soil

Trees even help the planet when they’re dead.

Decaying leaves and bark, known as mulch, add a protective layer to the earth. This layer protects against evaporation from heat – and retains water – keeping soil healthy so that other things can grow, such as vegetables, fruit and flowers.

Tulip bulbs emerging from mulch
Tulip bulbs emerging from mulch
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 9: Trees can increase house prices

Hedge your bets on a home in a tree-lined street. 

These properties tend to have a greater value. Maybe it's because they’re beautiful. Perhaps it’s because they’re practical (they keep streets cooler during heatwaves).

Or is it because they keep the neighbourhood safe? Increases in tree canopy in Connecticut, Baltimore and Chicago led to drops in violent crime – according to an American study.

Tree-lined street
Credit: Pixabay

Tree fact 10: Trees preserve wine without plastic

Cork bottle stoppers are largely made from Portuguese evergreen oaks. Bark is stripped from the trees. They aren’t cut down – so they carry on living.

Meanwhile, you get great wine without the need for pointless plastic (metal screw caps contain an inner seal of plastic that will remain in the environment for ages).

Corks also helps to age wine. So the next time you’re drinking a glass, raise a toast to the trees.

Wine corks lined up to form a love heart
Compost your corks or channel your inner artist
Credit: istock