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Trees and sustainability

In the activity above you will have explored how trees can be indicators of a changing climate, that these changes are long term and largely influenced by human activity.

This activity explores the role of trees as part of a wider ecosystem that helps stabilise the climate and provide the right conditions for human life. It also asks what we need to do to ensure the climate stays conducive for human life. You will explore a very important idea – ecosystem services. An ecosystem service is a beneficial product ecosystems provide for humans. For example, Mangrove forests absorb waves from the sea preventing erosion and flooding, forests store rainwater and release it gradually over time, bogs purify water and of course plants provide a huge source of food to eat! Trees provide a very important range of ecosystem service as we shall
discover below.


Trees, Ecosystems and Sustainability

Tree cycle



The activity is based around the resource: Trees, Ecosystems and Sustainability. You will need to print this off and ensure your students have a copy, either one copy each or in groups. We suggest you copy Trees, Ecosystems and Sustainability in A3 size. The resources Tree cycle, Problems & Solutions can also be used depending on your group; they help stimulate thinking but depending on the level or ability of your students you may choose not to use them or only introduce them after some initial thinking has taken place.

Take a look at the centre of Trees, Ecosystems and Sustainability, it shows a tree cycle with parts of it missing. Can you fill in the missing blanks? The resource Tree cycle will help. Explore and use questions to think about how the tree is part of a wider ecosystem that provides services beneficial to us:

  • Where does the tree get energy from? Is this a renewable source of energy? (renewable energy comes from the sun).
  • What happens to the ‘waste’ (fallen leaves) the tree produces? (it is recycled by
    invertebrates, fungi and bacteria in the soil to provide nutrients to the tree and other organisms).
  • What does the tree absorb from the atmosphere and what does it produce? (it
    absorbs carbon dioxide and produces both oxygen and a little carbon dioxide).

By exploring these questions you should be able to conclude that trees are a good example of a sustainable system; one that produces no harmful emissions and actually absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. The tree provides an ecosystem
service very important for us by helping to keep the atmosphere in balance. What would happen if carbon dioxide was not converted back to oxygen?

Now take a look at the boxes immediately below the tree. Think about the actions humans are doing that disrupt the services trees provide. Tree cycle gives you some suggestions if you need help. Each box is numbered so you can rank your answers should you choose to.

Finally, look at the bottom of Trees, Ecosystems and Sustainability. We have left space here for you to think about what actions we can take to ensure trees continue to provide the ecosystem services on which we rely. There are three boxes for actions we can take as individuals, as a school and as a country. All three are important: we need to do what we can as individuals, but by working together as a school or country we can be far more effective. R5 presents some suggestions if you need them.

There are lots of extensions you could follow up this activity with. For example:

  • Developing your own school action plan on reducing harmful emissions that affect climate change. Why not examine the possibility of becoming an Eco-School?
  • Lobbying for others, especially the government, to take climate change more
  • Exploring solutions that reduce emissions and maintain a high quality of life for all (renewable power, hybrid cars, etc).