What would it look like if all the trees around you disappeared? What impact would that have on your sense of place?
We hear a lot about deforestation in places like the rainforest, but the loss of forests isn’t just a recent phenomenon. Scandinavian countries like Iceland have had to face the impacts of deforestation for centuries. Now, they are finding ways to bring back their forests and setting an example for places around the globe to potentially follow.
Before we get to this story, we have to understand why the forests in these countries disappeared. Iceland’s first settlers brought sheep and cattle with them and needed space for these animals to graze. The settlers slashed down the forests, tree by tree, to grow hay and barley, and using the timber for building structures and as charcoal for fueling forges. It is believed that Iceland was almost entirely deforested within the first three centuries of settlement during the Iron Age.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that efforts to combat deforestation were set into action. Programs like the Icelandic Forest Service have taken on conservation efforts in Iceland to start reforesting the landscape. Their approach may seem a little unconventional to some, but it is helping to ensure that the forests they plant will continue to thrive as Iceland continues to feel the impacts of a changing climate.
In this wonderful short film, Throstur Eysteinsson, director of the Icelandic Forest Service and EUFORGEN (European Forest Genetic Resources Programme) National Coordinator, speaks about the work he’s doing to bring the forests back to Iceland.
Reforesting Beyond Iceland
As we mentioned, Iceland is not the only country struggling with this issue. Deforestation is taking place across the world but few places are tackling the problem. Scotland, much like Iceland, is confronting the issue, but they are taking a different approach; relying on mother nature to do the heavy lifting. Alan Watson-Featherstone, the creator of Trees for Life (a group created to restore the Scottish Highland), is using this new approach to replenish the damaged land.
Alan’s TEDx talk is a must-see for anybody interested in these issues of reforesting landscapes. I, like many, didn’t realize the extent to which places like Iceland and Scotland had been deforested. Alan has been working passionately for 30 years to educate people and work to reestablish Scotland’s forests, and his talk is inspiring for any nature lover.
A Call to Combat Deforestation!
These are just a couple of the many countries taking action against the global issue of climate change. Hearing about all the efforts being made to combat this issue can inspire hope, and by doing that, inspire others to take action around the world.
I grew up in the state of Vermont, a place well known for its green rolling hills. I cannot imagine a drive through this state without its thick forests and the annual autumn foliage, but even this land hasn’t gone unscathed. In the 1800s, nearly 70% of Vermont was cleared to make space for sheep, mining, logging, and industry. Thankfully, trees began to make their return to the Green Mountain State in the 20th century, when a shift of focus led to developing nondestructive ways to interact with the environment. 3
As with most places, if we don’t work to preserve and protect the natural environments, we risk losing them for the next generation. It’s an important reminder that we are ultimately responsible for the health of our planet, and we must care for it as it will care for us.
We all can aspire for something better.
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- “Afforesting Iceland – a Cause for Optimism.” YouTube. EUFORGEN, 19 Sept. 2017. Web. 24 July 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hgAf8awLmQ>. ↩
- Watson-Featherstone, Allen. “Restoring the Ancient Caledonian Forest | Alan Watson-Featherstone | TEDxFindhorn.” YouTube. TEDxTalks, 05 Aug. 2016. Web. 24 July 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtsExXe93Q>. ↩
- Dabritz, Charles. “Where Have All the Forests Gone?” Uvm.edu. UVM, n.d. Web. 26 July 2018. <http://www.uvm.edu/landscape/learn/Downloads/scrapbooks/forests2.pdf>. ↩