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“We must take what might well be our last chance to save the rainforest and help the tropical world to heal itself”

– Sir David Attenborough

What is a Rainforest?

A rainforest is an area of very tall trees which has lots of rainfall. Rare and undiscovered important plants and animals live in their 5 layers from the forest floor, to the shrub layer, understory, canopy and emergent layer at the very top. Around 80% of the world’s food originated from rainforests, such as potatoes, rice, yams, fruits, nuts, spices, coffee and chocolate.

Where are they?

Rainforests can be found on every single continent on Earth (except Antarctica) in over 80 countries – generally where the sun is at its hottest . The biggest surround the Amazon River in South America, and the Congo River in Africa, but even parts of Australia, Southeast Asia, North America and Europe are rainforest habitats. Thousands of years ago they covered as much as 12% of Earth’s land surface, yet today they cover less than 5%.

What’s so special about Rainforests?

Their benefits stretch right across the globe. Not only do they offer homes to trees, plants, animals and local people, but most importantly they help to regulate temperatures, keeping Earth’s climate and our weather system in good balance. They maintain regular rainfall by soaking up tropical rain, and releasing it into the air to create rain clouds. The wind then helps to carry the clouds across to other countries, where it falls as rain and feeds the crops. Rainforests also help prevent flooding and droughts. They remove dangerous carbon dioxide gas from the air (more than any other vegetation on land), they store the carbon in their trunks (to convert into sugary fuel to help them grow), then release the oxygen which we breathe (and need to survive) into the atmosphere. This process is called Photosynthesis.

Why do they need saving?

Rainforests supply our crops, medicines and potentially medicines that are yet to be discovered. They support our way of life and will have a massive effect on the whole planet if lost.
For a long, long time trees have been chopped down to make space for the large supply demands we make to grow, farm or mine items such as

  • Soy – the huge demand for soy/soya/soya-bean products for food and animal feed has meant that prices have increased. Soy plantations have cut down more trees to make even more room to grow more soy to meet that demand
  • Palm oil – this is one of the cheaper cooking oils available to buy and is found in around 1 in 10 products in supermarkets in the UK from food and cosmetics, to chocolate and soap. Like soy production, millions of hectares of rainforest are being cleared to make space to plant palm oil, which has destroyed the natural habitat of plants and endangered species such as elephants, tigers and orangutans.
  • Beef – The growing demand for meat has had a massive impact on the state of the world’s rainforests. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of Beef with approximately 70% of their deforested land being used for cattle grazing. The majority of their meat is sold to the EU, the Middle East and Russia. Cattle ranching in Brazil is estimated to have emitted around 9-12 billion tons of CO2 over the last decade. This is roughly the same amount of greenhouse gas that’s emitted from the whole of the US over a 2 year period!
  • Timber – Logging (cutting down trees to supply wood and paper) results in a loss of carbon stored in the soil, it reduces soil fertility and the devastating loss of plants and animals. Attempts have been made to conserve forests, but these have not been very successful, mainly due to illegal logging.
  • Biofuels – Made from animals and plants, biofuels are a new form of fuel for cars, buses and lorries. Ethanol is a petrol-alternative made from sugar and starch-based crops such as corn and sugarcane. Biodiesel is however made from vegetable oils such as palm, soy and rapeseed. Although better for the environment as they release less carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuels, the production of biofuels involves felling and burning rainforests to clear land for crops, which produce more carbon emissions than the use of biofuels saves.
  • Gold, Copper and Bauxite (a clayey rock that is the main ore of aluminium) – Mining valuable minerals found in the rainforests have the knock-on effect of deforestation due to the infrastructure needed to support it, such as making way for roads and homes, gardens for food, wood for fuel and pollution of water sources. In fact, 70% of the earth’s rainforest land is now within a mile of a road or clearing

What’s being done?

Last year, leaders from all around the world met in Glasgow for the UK COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference with the aim of finding a way to get each nation to commit to doing what they can to prevent the earth’s temperature from rising by more than 1.5C over the next 10 years. This will be achieved in many different ways, but mainly through

  • stopping and reversing deforestation – by protecting and restoring ecosystems, and managing land sustainably, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by more than 7 giga tonnes by 2030
    moving away from the use of coal power
  • reducing methane emissions
  • speeding up the switch to electric vehicles.
  • Whilst we remain hopeful that this can be achieved, it will only happen if every country delivers on its promises.

What can I do?

  • Plant a tree where possible – this will provide a home and food for nature’s insects and animals, whilst trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and releasing oxygen into the air.
  • Reduce your consumption of single-use products.
  • Buy recycled products, then recycle them again. Check the labels on the packaging to see if it is made from recycled products, and can be recycled again
  • Don’t waste – only buy what you will use
  • Use less paper. Why not go paperless at work and home – most things can be done digitally these days. Do you really need to print that page?
  • Recycle paper and cardboard
  • Make informed food choices. Don’t use palm oil, soy or products containing palm oil or soy
  • Reduce your meat consumption – can one or two of your meals each day be meat-free?
  • Buy certified wood products – Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber ensures good sound management practices that help conserve and plant new forests
  • Do not burn firewood excessively
  • Support the products of companies committed to reducing deforestation – Some products are certified rainforest friendly and even the really small decisions you make, such as what kind of chocolate you buy can have a massive consequence for rainforests
  • Raise awareness in your circle and in your community. Educate your friends, family, and community about how our everyday actions can impact forests around the world.
  • Support organizations fighting deforestation
  • Support efforts to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples and traditional forest communities.

You might be surprised to know that approximately 75% of the world’s accessible freshwater is derived from forests!

Find out more on the LawnStarter blog by clicking this link 

You can also read more about how Size of Wales are making Wales part of the global solution to climate change by clicking here

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