One in ten of all tree species are in danger of extinction, say international conservation groups

Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) have launched their Global Trees Campaign, in an attempt to save more than 8,000 tree species threatened with extinction.

The figure represents 10% of all tree species, say campaigners, and includes birch, cedar, magnolia, mahogany, maple, meranti, oak and pine species, which are threatened with extinction through woodland and forest destruction and unsustainable felling for timber.

Even familiar trees such as the monkey puzzle are being felled on a massive scale in their native Chile, thanks to demand for its tall straight trunk which makes perfect planks, says FFI. Some botanists suspect that there are more specimens in Britain than in Chile.

Even the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is unable to protect many species. The Chilean conifer Fitzroya cupressoides, named after Robert Fitzroy, Captian of HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin’s 1835 voyage around the world, has been reduced to 15% of its original cover. Though having the highest level of protection under CITES, the remaining trees are threatened by illegal logging.

A major focus of the Global Trees Campaign will be medicinal trees, which often contain their healing powers within their bark. One such tree is the Kenyan Prunus africana, a slow-growing member of the plumb family which contains a natural remedy for prostate disorders. Demand from the US and Europe has lead to the bark of a single tree fetching as much as £125 (US$180) – the equivalent of a poor African’s annual income. According to FFI, at current rates of harvesting, the species will be extinct in five to ten years.

The campaigners point out that collectively, trees provide a planetary air-conditioning system, prevent soil erosion and cycle nutrients through ecosystems. Individual species support their own unique fauna and provide food, medicine and shade for people, for whom they are often even powerful cultural icons, say the campaigners. “If we can’t protect threatened tree species, it does not bode well for the rest of the biosphere,” says the Global Tree Campaign.

The campaign started as FFI’s Sound Wood campaign, concentrating on saving trees used for musical instruments, such as the African blackwood used to make clarinets, a FFI spokesman explained to edie. However, it was quickly realised that a great many more tree species needed help. “It’s not rainforest conservation but the fact that people go in and take one sort of timber,” said the spokesman.

Much of the work of the campaign involves fieldwork in terms of finding out information about species and collecting seed for breeding stock. Information is also being collected on which species are being held in botanic gardens, which can be used for seed collection.

Projects are being implemented in Brazil, Tanzania and Mexico, and the charity is starting to look at other projects in China. “We look at priority lists and see who we can help out,” explained the spokesman. A meeting in November at the Linnean Society in London will look at how to provide even more assistance.

According to FFI, the general public can support the Global Trees Campaign by:

  • using wood and paper wisely and recycling both;
  • buying wood products from forests certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council;
  • planting native trees;
  • supporting local initiatives to save endangered trees and their habitats;
  • making a donation to Fauna and Flora International, at Great Eastern House, Tenison Road, Cambridge CB1 2TT; telephone number 01223 571000; email [email protected].

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