It’s the #InternationalDayofForests today, 21 March! Given that my research project is on deforestation, I thought I should perhaps commemorate this day with a quick and somewhat random post.
The word forest holds different meanings, brings to mind different things. To some, it’s a plantation for timber; others a dark wilderness filled with dangerous creatures; or just a good break away from urbanisation. To me, it used to bring to mind old primary growth trees of Shorea and Dipterocarpus, or secondary forests interspersed with rubber trees, with a troop of long-tailed macaques, accompanied by a greater racket-tailed drongo and a veritable trove of arthropods – essentially the Central Catchment Nature Reserve in Singapore. It was only after coming to the UK, that I realised forests could also refer to timber plantations. Though I do find timber plantations and temperate forests less interesting biologically speaking (having considerably less biodiversity than the tropics), they are rather therapeutic and comforting to walk through still.
When non-Chinese speakers ask me about Chinese, I sometimes like to bring up the word for forest – 森林 (sēn lín) – which is made of repeats of the same character for wood – 木 (mù). It nicely captures the pictographic nature of the Chinese written language, but now that I think of it, also illustrates the use value of forests (as a source of wood).
The theme for this year’s Forest Day is Forest and Water, highlighting the value of forests in providing us with clean drinking water. As the above infographic shows, they also do much more than that. While I am all for the provisioning and regulating uses of forests, I do still think their purpose for being here is just cos they are here, and for being home to a tremendous variety of life. And for those two reasons alone, we should leave them be. (Though of course in reality those reasons have not been sufficient).
Doing a project on deforestation is awfully depressing (I realise I’ve gone from Seagrass Watch to Global Forest Watch), and I sometimes wonder what the point is when, no matter what you do, forests are still going up in flames, or being destroyed in search of oil (or other ‘useful’ materials). Still, one has to keep spirits and hopes up, that perhaps we will all be able to appreciate the full value of forests. And keep them intact.