Soon we won't see the wood or the trees

NOW the sun is out and summer is officially here, thousands of Suffolk families will be making their way to the woodlands for picnics, walks, cycle rides and other events.

By Amanda Cresswell

NOW the sun is out and summer is officially here, thousands of Suffolk families will be making their way to the woodlands for picnics, walks, cycle rides and other events.

But as visitors sit and munch their sandwiches in the tranquillity of the forest are they really aware of the importance of trees on our environment? Environment editor Amanda Cresswell reports.

FORESTS are a huge attraction in Suffolk. Each year thousands of families go there to enjoy picnics in the woodland, tranquil walks, cycle rides or wildlife watching.

Over 300 million visits are made to England's forests each year. These visits to large forests to privately owned woodlands attract dog walkers, families enjoying organised activities, or couples wanting to enjoy the peace and beauty of the woodland.

Sarah Martin, Tourist Assistant at Ipswich Tourist Information Centre, said forests are popular mainly with the local people.

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"We are lucky in Suffolk to have so much forestry," said Sarah. "It includes Rendlesham, Tunstall, Dunwich and Thetford.

"Forests are brilliant places to go with a full range of flora and fauna. Many people appreciate having a forest nearby."

The tourist office receives inquiries further afield from people interested in husky racing at Rendlesham forest, or there's the occasional call from hopeful UFO spotters. They also get visits from Dutch tourists interested in off-road cycling.

Over and above the beauty of forests, if managed correctly with a view to maintaining them for centuries to come, they have a very positive impact on the environment.

Controversial artist, Damien Hirst has also brought forests to the forefront.

He has created a massive installation piece using empty carbon dioxide cylinders to highlight the environmental impact of greenhouse gases. His work is a visual representation of the carbon dioxide that he himself generates in a year – around 15 tonnes.

For the past few years Hirst has been supporting the work of Future Forests, an environmental company which advises individuals and groups on how to reduce their CO2 emissions, and discussed the new project with the organisation's co-founder, Dan Morrell.

Explaining his motivation behind the piece, Hirst said: "I was doing some work using gas cylinders and I started thinking about how much space that stuff filled.

"Then I thought it would be great to make something which actually physically shows your carbon dioxide emissions – otherwise it would just be a figure on paper."

Future Forests also encourages the creation of new forests as a means to offset CO2 emissions and is running a project to get more than 100,000 saplings planted across the country.

One of their plans with a national newspaper is to get 5,000 trees planted on the Isle of Skye.

Mr Morrell, said: "Global warming is one of the biggest issues facing us and we can all be empowered to do something about it by switching to renewable energy, creating less CO2 through efficiency and planting beautiful forests to offset the balance."

Dr David Viner, senior research scientist at the climatic research unit, University of East Anglia, said: "Damien Hirst's sculpture was a good bit of awareness, raising the issue of global warming in a novel way.

"It puts it in perspective the concerns of CO2. Not what we breathe out but what we are producing in terms of car use. It is a good indication of what we are doing."

He said the use of forests as a carbon sink is a good way forward.

But planting more trees is not going to solve the problem.

"It helps meet some of our commitment to national agreement. But whatever level of planting we do each year is not going to change it by a lot," added Dr Viner.

"To put it in perspective, a rainforest the size of Wales is being cut down each year.

"Forests have to be sustainable for the foreseeable future. There is no point if you plant trees and not worry about the management of it. There is a long-term commitment and there must be a programme in place for many years to come.

"There are trees from one to 150 years old. People should look to the next two to three centuries ahead and if a tree is cut down it needs continued cover and a sapling to take its place."

Woodlands planted in the correct manner can create a better environment for wildlife.

Although tree planting is a good way forward to offset CO2 emissions, it isn't the complete answer.

"People need to look at the bigger picture. Society needs to shift in the way they use energy, building, for example, wind turbines."

The Forestry Commission is a government department responsible for forests throughout Great Britain, which includes 25,000 hectares in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Thetford alone attracts two million visitors a year and has a long term plan to maintain it for years.

But although we all love the beauty of the woodland, next time we take a stroll though the forest it is worth keeping in mind.

A radical shift in the whole pattern of thinking of the way we use our energy will benefit generations to come.