Tag Archives: reforestation

Drone mini fleet could plant 400,000 trees a day

About half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost to logging and big infrastructure. That’s equivalent to 24 million tons of CO2 emissions a year. And since it is humans who caused this massive deforestation, it is our responsibility to plant it back — with a little help from tech.

In Myanmar, a nonprofit called Worldview Internation Foundation has planted more than six million trees since 2012, with plans for another four million by the of this year. The ultimate goal, however, is restoring 350,000 hectares of coastal forest, which amounts to more than a billion trees. That’s a commendable target, but also seemingly unrealistic. Just imagine planting these many trees by hand!

Credit: BioCarbon Engineering.

A startup called BioCarbon Engineering has a better way of doing things. In 2018, the company flew drones over a remote field in the south of Myanmar and dropped tiny pods containing a germinated seed and nutrients. Today, the field is covered in 20-inch-tall mangrove saplings.

Speaking to Fast Company, Irina Fedorenko, the startup’s co-founder, says that two operators working with 10 drones could plant as many as 400,000 trees in a single day. The company wants to use this approach to restore forests in India’s mountains, as well as in Sri Lanka.

Not all types of trees can be planted this way due to different seed size and growing conditions. The tests and tweaks BioCarbon Engineering has made thus far, however, suggest that drone planting is perfectly suited to mangroves.

First, the drones survey the planting site, collecting data about the area’s topography and soil as they hover above it. This data is then combined with satellite imagery in order to determine the best location to plant each seed. The startup now knows which species and environmental conditions are best suited to grow as many mangrove trees as possible.

In the future, BioCarbon Engineering would like to partner with companies that would like to offer their customers the option to carbon offset their orders.

According to a recent study, the world has enough room for more than a trillion trees. If allowed to mature, these extra forests would store 205 gigatons of carbon, roughly equal to two-thirds of all the carbon humans have added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Age. This would bring down heat-trapping greenhouse gases to levels not seen for nearly 100 years, according to the authors from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH Zurich).


Vikings cut down all of Iceland’s forests — the country is planting them anew

Iceland is trying to heal its Viking-induced wounds — by reforesting.


The Icelandic countryside; soon to also feature trees.
Image credits Monica Volpin.

Iceland is currently considered the least forested country in all of Europe, but this wasn’t always the case. At the end of the ninth century, as Vikings from Norway first set foot on the island, a quarter of it was covered in lush birch forests. The Vikings, however, cut down almost 97% of these trees to obtain building materials and make room for crops and pastures.

Today, less than 0.5% of Iceland is forested, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Locals joke that, because the forests here are so rare and so young, all you need to do to find your way around them is to stand up. Partly as a way to address climate change, partly as a way to prevent environmental degradation, and partly out of a desire to simply see the island blanketed in forests again, Iceland is now trying to reforest itself, according to AFP.


Iceland, sadly, isn’t a very welcoming place for trees. Its harsh climate and active volcanoes (which periodically cover the soil in layers of lava and ash) make it hard for trees to take root and grow here. However, the lack of trees is particularly bad news for Iceland; without their roots to support it, the soil here erodes quickly and can’t store water very well. All in all, this means Iceland is experiencing extensive desertification despite its northern latitude

The country has made reforesting one of the priorities in its 2018 climate action plan, citing carbon uptake by trees as an important avenue for Iceland to mitigate climate change.

Reforestation efforts that began in the 1950s and the 1990s have helped replant some of these forests, but there is still much to do. For example, the Icelandic Forest Service (IFS) has been tasked to turn the alien landscape of Hafnarsandur, an 8,000-hectare area of basalt and black sand in Iceland’s southwest, into a forest. This is meant both as a way to increase forest cover in Iceland as well as a method to protect the nearby town of Thorlakshofn from recurring dust storms. The IFS is now busy planting lodgepole pines and Sitka spruces in the area

“This is one of the worst examples of soil erosion in Iceland on low land,” Hreinn Oskarsson, the IFS head of strategy, explains about Hafnarsandur. “We are planning an afforestation project to stabilise the soil,” Oskarsson added.

Iceland’s only domestic tree is the birch. However, the IFS focuses its afforestation efforts on other species. The problem with the native birch, according to Adalsteinn Sigurgeirsson, deputy director of the IFS, is that it isn’t a “productive species”. For objectives such as fast carbon sequestrations or timber production, it just doesn’t cut it — so the IFS is branching out from monocultures using this single native species.

Iceland is now peppered with nursery gardens that feed the country’s afforestation efforts with young poplars and pines. These are grown indoors for three months and are afterward moved outside.

“Originally, they come from Alaska but now we have 30, 40, 50 year-old trees giving us seeds, so we collect that and we use that for forest seedlings production,” Holmfridur Geirsdottir, a 56-year-old horticulturist and greenhouse owner, told AFP.

Once in the wild, these trees have an uphill battle to fight. Iceland’s soils are very poor in nitrogen, an essential element for plants, limiting the average growth rate of trees here to around one-tenth the rate observed in the Amazon rainforests. However, climate change might offer an unexpected boost in these trees’ growth rates.

“What has mainly been hampering growth of forest here has been the low temperatures and the coolness of the summers, but we are realising changes in that because of climate change,” said forest service deputy director Sigurgeirsson.

“Warming appears to be elevating tree growth in Iceland, and therefore also the carbon sequestration rate,” he continued.

Since 2015, Iceland has planted around 1,000 hectares of forest (between three and four million trees).

Golden Pheasant.

Reforestation efforts bring back hundreds of species to China

China’s reforesting, and their efforts are bringing back species that had previously disappeared from the country’s lands.

Golden Pheasant.

The golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus). Image credits Petr Kratochvil.

For the past few decades, China has been pursuing an ambitious project — to increase the amount of land covered by forests to 23% of the country’s total land area by 2020.

Not only is this good news for Chinese nationals, who have been struggling with the country’s notoriously high levels of pollution, but also its wildlife. The resurgent forests are bringing back species to Chinese habitats from which they were previously considered extinct, report researchers from the Beijing Normal University (yes, that really is their name).

Hot new real estate

Using infrared cameras hidden in the Ziwuling Forest Area in Yan’an, Shannxi province, northwestern China, the team documented the presence of several rare species previously thought extinct in the area. The observations are quite encouraging, spotting the largest population of North-Chinese leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) ever recorded in the region.

Other notable appearances include the golden pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) — a species that has established populations around the world — foxes, and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). Reforestation projects have been underway around Yan’an since 1998.

“The nature reserve has a large population of wild boars and roe deer, as well as small and medium-sized carnivorous animals such as ocelots and red foxes,” Feng Limin Feng, associate professor from Beijing Normal University, told China Plus.

Overall, the team has documented 263 different species in the area. Eight of these are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s Red List, and 29 others are listed as threatened. Such a diverse ecosystem is a major leap forward for the area, traditionally devastated by logging and deforestation.

“If it was not for environmental protection we’ve undertaken, it’s likely none of these animals would have survived,” Feng adds.

The reforestation efforts are part of China’s larger drive to improve environmental protection and combat climate change.

As we’ve written earlier today, climate change and habitat erosion together pose a massive threat to the viability of Earth’s ecosystems. I’m glad to see China tackling the issue from the roots up.

Pakistan just planted one billion trees to tackle deforestation and climate change

While the US president complains that his country is being treated unfairly and others aren’t pulling their weight, others are in fact pulling their weight. In less than two years, a province in Pakistan just planted 1 billion trees.

Pakistani provincial leader Imran Khan started the Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project in 2015 and it now reached fruition. In less than two years, 1,000,000,000 trees were planted, even faster than anticipated (by the end of 2017). This is just one province in one country.

You don’t even need to care for the environment to understand why this is a good idea — it’s not just that they store CO2, trees provide a whopping number of environmental services. They regulate water regimes by intercepting rainfall and regulating its flow through the hydrological system. They maintain and ensure soil quality, preventing erosion, and they’re key components in a wide array of ecosystems.

“If you plant trees, we have discovered, by the river banks it sustains the rivers. But most importantly, the glaciers that are melting in the mountains, and one of the biggest reasons is because there has been a massive deforestation. So, this billion tree is very significant for our future,” Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told Voice of America.

We’re also dealing with a deforestation planetary crisis. According to the World Bank data, the planet has lost 1.3 million square kilometers of forests since 1990. This is why the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) set up the Bonn Challenge in 2011. The Bonn Challenge calls for the global restoration of 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. So far, less than 30 countries have signed up to the challenge, but even so, there are reasons for optimism. This milestone achieved in Pakistan is one of them, one which will inspire others, Inger Anderson, director general of the IUCN says.

“IUCN congratulates the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [where the trees were planted] on reaching this momentous milestone,” Anderson said. “The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge.”

Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, Pakistan. Image via VOA.

Pakistan is one of the countries experiencing the most deforestation, and also one of the most at risk of global warming. Decades and decades of deforestation have cleared the country to the point where only 3% of it is covered by forests. Nowadays, the government in the north-western region has banned the cutting and felling of most trees in the area, but the so-called “timber mafia” still operates around the region, illegally destroying trees and forests. While enforcing the law is still problematic, projects such as this one could determine the local communities to play a more active role. Up until now, this is exactly what they’ve been doing.

“But we could not have done it if the local communities were not involved,” Khan said. “The local communities first grew the nurseries and then amongst them people who then protected the trees, the saplings when they were planted. It is one of the most successful experiments ever, and we have 85 percent survival rate.”

In order to ensure the success of this story, over 13,000 small-scale nurseries, producing up to 25,000 saplings each, have been involved in the project. The provincial government offered a cash advanced and a guaranteed purchase after the trees mature. Several species were planted, including pines, walnuts, and eucalyptus, officials say. The estimated cost of this project was $123 million, but it’s not just the trees — the project also generated green jobs, and empowered unemployed youth and women in the province. Given its success, it’s been decided that an additional $100 million will be allocated to maintain the project through June 2020. This will ensure even more environmental services and benefits for the locals, the entire country, and the entire world.

“If the trend continues, there will be more birds, there will be more microbes, there will be more insects, so there will be more animals, so more habitats. The ecosystem will kind of literally revive in certain places. There will be more rains because we do need rains,” Hamaad Khan Naqi, WWF-Pakistan’s director general, told VOA.

India just planted 66 million trees in 12 hours

The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has planted a whopping 66 million trees in a day, beating the previous record of 50 trees (also held by India).

Most of the trees were planted on the Narmada river banks, which is often revered to as “Life Line of Madhya Pradesh” for its huge contribution to the state of Madhya Pradesh in many ways. Image credits: Ansh Mishra.

It was a massive citizen involvement, as more than 1.5 million people from all circles of society chipped in to plant the 66,750,000 tree saplings in just 12 hours. In total, 24 districts of the Narmada river basin were chosen for the planting, to increase the likelihood of survival for the trees. The saplings were provided by different nurseries around the state and featured over 20 different species.

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan was also a part of the event and helped popularize it. He attended four different planting parties, thanking everyone involved.

“I am greatly indebted to all who are planting trees today. We will be contributing significantly in saving nature. By participating in a plantation, people are contributing their bit to climate change initiatives and saving the environment.”

Aside from the main benefit of planting trees, authorities also want this event to raise awareness and help India achieve its ambitious environmental objectives. As part of the Paris Agreement, India pledged to increase forest cover to 95 million hectares (235 million acres) by 2030 — that’s an area as big as Pakistan and South Korea put together — and it’s pretty well on course for that. Already, the state of Kerala has planted more than 10 million trees in a single day, and Maharashtra will plant 40 million trees this year in a reforestation campaign. The country has a budget of $6.2 billion for this effort. It’s a contribution to the solving of a global problem.

Aside from contributing to India’s efforts towards reducing its impact and respecting the Paris Agreement, the trees are expected to improve the air quality in the state.

This isn’t something isolated, but it’s part of a much larger movement in India. The developing country has been taking strides in terms of renewable energy generation and improving sustainability. India, which is already the world’s 3rd largest polluter (after China and the US) still greatly depends on coal, but has been slowing down its coal consumption and focusing more on renewables. Solar energy has gotten so cheap in India that the country is expected to become one of the (if not the) largest market for solar energy in the world.