We have already seen just how little living space we have in which crops will grow satisfactorily. Only 11% of the land surface (excluding the Antarctic) offers no serious limitation. Sadly, governments take little note of this when planning roads and cities. In developed countries alone, 1150 sq. miles of prime agricultural land each year disappears under urban sprawl. In Britain, an area the size of Greater London has disappeared in the last ten years.
Soil is crucial to life since most of our bulk foods depend on it. Soil erosion is a natural and continuous process, but provided we maintain a cover of trees or other plants it is regenerated at the same rate as it is lost. If, however, we remove the protective cover, soil loss is accelerated. Can it be replaced?
Simple soil loss is not the only problem. In India an equivalent amount of nutrients is lost through flooding as is applied as fertilisers. River basins and the productive mangrove swamps are being silted up. Reservoirs built to store water are instead storing silt - with far-reaching effects.
Forests are much more than a resource to be used for export revenues (short term gains) and firewood, however desperate the need. They are our planet's air conditioners absorbing carbon dioxide and liberating oxygen. They influence to a large extent local and regional climates, generally by making them less extreme. They help ensure a continuous supply of clean water.
Forests growing in the immediate vicinity of rivers are particularly important because they provide soil cover and protect areas downstream from the damaging effects of water fluctuations. Flood damage in India costs millions of pounds per year. India's problems stem almost entirely from the removal of the watershed forests in the north. The result is the same whether commercial logging, over-grazing or the collection of firewood is the cause.Read More: Forests