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Forest case

A STRANGE GARDEN

After reading the case kids will start working on the workplan and think of the questions for which they want an answer, and will try to find the answers.
They will use the given information and the sites provided, but also books, magazines and interviews with people in this region, etc.

At any moment you can get your pupils going – if necessary – with tips and suggestions for main and sub-questions. A couple of questions are located here merely serving as a guideline:

  • How and why were so many pieces of land cleared?
  • Why is this bad?
  • Why is it important to plant native species?
  • Why can’t such a new project simply be created with nursery plants?
  • Why is it also a good idea for city folk to assist with this?

These questions can be presented to the students It is better to ask them to think of questions themselves. This list of question can be distributed if the students can’t arrive at the right questions themselves.
To tell you pupils about the effects of deforestation in an extrem case you can use the story of Easter Island

Background Information:

Trees for the world

Deforestation

Land has been usually cleared of native trees and bushes due to logging or anticipated farming needs. With changes in the local and world economies over the last two decades, and climate change, it is often found that more land was cleared of native plants than was eventually used for cash crops or pastureland.

This ‘unused’ land may have been invaded by foreign plant species (even trees) which we then call weeds. They are unsuited to native animals, birds and insects.

These weeds are often not accompanied by predator insects or animals which kept them in check in their land of origin. They may through shading prevent seeds of native plants from germinating. The layer of humus covering the ground in a given region can have its soil chemistry and biology changed by the leaves falling from the foreign plants. This humus is specific to certain soils to promote water and air absorption.
The needs of modern urban society is also disastrous for bird and plant life: in Australia each 10 hectares (about 22 acres) of trees chopped down for a shopping centre or housing estate or school, may kill on average 1000 birds through loss of habitat (some areas more than others). In Britain the introduction of ‘broad acreage’ farming with artificial fertilisers and large machines, has decreased some bird species by over 50% in only twenty years!

Desertification

A major problem in many countries caused by (amongst others) over-ambitious land-clearing and farming practices not suited to an area, is desertification. In parts of Australia animal and plant life have learned to cope with little rain. As the water table is very low, native plants survive by sending down deep roots. Evaporation through the leaves of those plants keeps the water table low. European-type cash crops have shallow roots. So the water table is gradually being raised, with disastrous results: salt is brought up from below, and the land, now ‘salinised’ can’t support plant or animal life anymore!!

Reforestation

Many countries run reforestation programs to replace the removed native trees and bushes, in large and even small sites, such as alongside ‘development projects’ like roadways. Some ‘retreeing’ projects offer employment to local people such as farmers who usually have a good knowledge of local soil conditions. Others depend on volunteers, often from ‘developed’ countries.

Students can even volunteer for ‘out-of-town’ projects: they are put up by local farmers.
City dwellers can contribute to the restoration of native vegetation by sowing the seeds of native species in special containers for distribution to farmers who want to restore parts of their land, or for other land-restoration projects.

How does such a project work in Australia?
On a stretch of land about 1,5 km long and 300 m deep along the coast most of the native shrubs had been removed after colonial settlement. Instead some small houses were built and sheep and cattle were kept there. As to the original vegetation we can only go by descriptions left to us. Some plants remained in deep gullies; some had been totally removed.

In our time foreign trees with mostly low hanging branches which cast large shadows and prevent germination of local seeds together with foreign grasses, covered the rest of the site. There were also many ‘wild’ olive trees (also foreign) the seeds of which had been brought there by some birds from olive plantations many kilometres away! (Olive is originally from the Mediterranean area)

A register of all the species still present was drawn up by a botanist; we also had the use of a town council aerial photograph which we enlarged to show the patches of ‘weed’ trees to be removed.
Around 1995 many volunteers started collecting seeds from the remaining plants, as well as of plants no longer here, but still found further up the coast about 5 km away. A seed-collector’s permit is necessary which restricts the amount of seed which may be collected. If everyone collected seeds, there would be nothing left to grow naturally. They are also for other reasons necessary to nature such for instance as food for local animals and birds.

Other volunteers started removing the foreign trees, in consultation with the town council, as this site is a public reserve (park) and the activities had to blend with council’s plans. Volunteers also assisted by trucking away the large volumes of tree debris.

Seedlings are first raised at the volunteers’ homes over a 5 month period in plastic tubes filled with a sterile growing-mixture or ‘soil’ to which special fertilizer is added. Having them at home makes it easy to water them daily. They can only be planted in short period of 3 months in winter when the site is wet enough to support them. In this region there is only rainfall in winter.

Some native plant-fertilizer is placed in each hole, and they are well watered in. Around 1500 plants were planted each year. Regrettably quite a few plants were lost some years due to insufficient rainfall – it was necessary to water them in a summer heat wave and due to rabbits which devour them. Unfortunately rabbit eradication will only occur over many years when a rabbit-virus released by the government reaches our area. The council is also considering a plan to close some of the many footpaths which have sprung up over the years: too often pedestrians and cyclists harm some seedlings.

A vital part of the project is site maintenance, also called site care: weekly some volunteers go on their hands and knees to dig up weeds which will soon overwhelm the site. One has to be careful not to pull them up in a rough manner, because the hole this causes soon gets new weed seeds settling there. It is most important for beginners to work with someone who knows the plants around there, which are weeds and which are natives: if you’re not sure if you’re going to pull out a weed or a valuable native plant, don’t pull it! You can always ask someone’s opinion and if necessary pull it out a week or two later.

Volunteers have kept photographs of the site as it was; the difference now is very notable!
Get to know your native species, the weeds, your soil and weather and you’re halfway there!

Native trees and shrubs

The policy is to use only local plants grown from seeds collected from that area (5 km radius) as they have over the millennia developed best for that area’s type of climate and soil.
Depending on the project, there may be a mix of different plants including smaller bushes, to create an ‘under storey’: some birds need these as they attract small spiders and other ‘consumables’.

Materials

All the materials required for growing the native plants are usually supplied to the volunteers. This may include:

  • polyurethane boxes, each large enough for 60 plants;
  • factory made PVC “tubes” having a 0,5mm thick wall, 10 cm long, 3.5 cm in diameter, with the tube heat-sealed at one end with drain holes; or solid die cast plant holders
  • sealed packets of suitable fertiliser;
  • name tags;
  • a booklet explaining how to do the whole job, with notes on the needs of each of the many species;
  • the labelled seed packets;
  • dates and quantities required;
  • ‘growing medium’ or ‘seed-raising’ soil.

Instruction for the volunteers

Once you have filled the tubes with soil and fertiliser and sown the seeds, all you have to do is provide necessary shade while the plants are small, and water them daily: the cost to you is thus very little, far outweighed by the joy the growing plants will bring you every day!

Links:

http://www.janusfoundation.org/about.htm
The Janus Foundation has projects in Belize, Central America, requires volunteers. (Beginners site in English, German and Spanish).

http://www.unep.org/children_youth/kids/campaigns.htm
“Plant for the Planet” invites you to join a campaign to grow trees at your school for local reforestation programmes. (Beginners)

http://www.unep.org/children_youth/homepage_files/youth/ccampaign.htm
This page lists countries where a local sustainable consumption campaign is being run.

http://www.unep.org/themes/land/
lists success stories in land degradation and desertification, and agri-food production and consumption and related environmental impacts. It also lists stories about South America and the Caribbean, West Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

http://www.vic.gov.au/VictoriaOnline
Lists various retreeing projects in Victoria, Australia, as examples of what can be done.

http://www.treesforlife.org.au
discusses in detail voluntary reforestation and bush care projects in South Australia. (Beginners)

http://n.webring.com/hub?ring=sustainability
The Sustainability Web Ring (alphabetical list of many sites) focuses on the efforts of organisations to achieve sustainable development. You will find information from around the world about how to deal with such crucial issues as: climate change, cleaner production, waste, poverty, consumerism, natural resource management, and governance. This web ring is managed by the Sustainable Development Communications Network (SDCN).

http://www.undp.org/energy/index.html
UN Development Programme lists various global initiatives on several themes.

http://www.unep.org/children_youth/homepage_files/youth/servers.htm
Here you can place your address or e-mail address to receive media releases on emerging environmental issues.

http://www.unep.org/
Click on a picture to access other themes, such as biodiversity, fresh water, oceans, atmosphere, urban issues and more. (Intermediate)

http://www.unep.org/children_youth/homepage_files/youth/handbook.htm
To get a handbook on running a local sustainable consumption campaign, visit this site.

http://www.sanrem.uga.edu/
Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Advanced collaborative research site (Advanced).