Trees for People

This book is about the importance of trees to people as sources of fuel, shelter, timber, and recreation. It is developing as short chapters covering varied aspects of forestry and natural woodlands.


Reclaiming the desolated northern lands                      

Sitka spruce Kyloe UK

A commercial plantation of Sitka spruce in north east England.

Forests and woodlands are the dominant natural vegetation in many regions of the world. The areas of forest and woodland are increasing in two of four main climatic domains of the world: boreal, and temperate. Chapter 1 introduces the book by describing how the vast forests of the north regrew after the ice-age, then were used by people for their survival, development and leisure. 

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Energy of sunlight harvested as wood

 Fagus sylvatica leaves SMALL

Leaves of beech, a tree of great value as timber and aesthetically. 

Life on Earth is powered by sunlight and trees predominate in capturing this energy. Trees use this energy to incorporate carbon from the atmosphere to synthesize organic matter, mainly as wood. This chapter describes the pathways of energy and matter from green leaves through to harvested timber.

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 Leaves: when should they fall?

How do some deciduous broad-leaf tree species manage to flourish in regions that seem suitable only for coniferous needle-leaf species? Why do some needle-leaf conifers shed all their leaves before the onset of every winter? Answers to these questions may be found in recent studies showing how all types of leaves are adapted so that their gain of energy and materials is optimal under a wide range of physical and biological constraints upon photosynthesis.

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Roots and their fungal partners


Base of a larch tree with a fly-agaric mushroom

How roots of trees in woodlands function can only be understood fully in the context of the fungi they are symbiotic with. These are the mycorrhizal fungi that are a large and active component of many soils. Threads of these fungi wrap around tips of roots and there extract sugars from the sap of the trees. In exchange the trees gain mineral nutrients from the fungal threads. But where does the balance lie between the cost to the tree of losing these sugars and its gain from the nutrients?

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Trees to store carbon


Accumulating carbon storage in a plantation forest over 80 years.

Plants grow by transforming the carbon of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere into the structures of their bodies. Trees with their woody roots, stems and branches store huge amounts of carbon. The wood is long lasting and it stores carbon away from the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Tree planting is now promoted worldwide as an important contribution to mitigating the climate crisis. 

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People making wooden buildings


A spiral staircase made with types of engineered wood.

This chapter describes the growing trend of using wood as the main structural material for tall buildings as apartment blocks and offices, also the enhanced use of wood for internal structures of aesthetically pleasing form. One advantage is to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from manufacture of steel, concrete and brick for conventional buildings; another is to store carbon within the structure of the building.

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 Wood as fuel: from cooking to electrical energy

Ch7 thumb

A modern style of kiln for the small-scale production of charcoal.

Crucial stages in the development of human society were the inventions of how to use fire and of cooking our food. Harvesting of woody fuel became essential, and when manufacture of charcoal was invented our ability to produce metal tools and ceramics developed. Demand for wood based fuel was so great that tree coppicing and sustainable forestry were invented. Now we incorporate wood as fuel into methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to substitute for fossil fuels.

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Regeneration woodlands

 Refugium Assynt THUMB

Natural growth of trees on an island (a refugium) gives information on what to plant in the community regeneration project nearby, as well as providing dispersed seeds.

Regeneration of woods and forests is increasingly popular and this topical subject is broad and varied worldwide. This chapter provides an overview ranging from community projects to restore areas of disused land to a former wooded character, through to questions of how to protect such woods from damage by herbivores, and regeneration for sustainability of woodlands used for multiple purposes.

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