Forests and people
A stormy relationship
It is widely believed that early human species evolved in and around the African rainforests roughly 4 million years ago. The forest offered them food in the form of plants and animals, and water.
After the discovery of fire, wood was used for burning, and later on for making tools. As life evolved, humans started clearing land for agriculture and to set up more and more advanced settlements.
Today, the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people depend on forests and almost all forests on Earth are inhabited. Large scale agricultural conversion can have significant impacts on communities dependent on the forest, destroying critical stocks of fuel, fodder, food and building materials.
An emotional bond?Human beings and forests have always had a complex relationship.
We have depended on forests as long as we have inhabited the planet – getting clean air to breathe, food and water from it, fuel, shade and shelter, and now we need it for economic gain as well.
Early humans were known to worship trees, and even today, in some parts of the world, forests are regarded as places of awe, with spirits attributed to be living there.
The worship of forests, plants and animals, and appeasing of animal and tree spirits are still quite common in some cultures, and the forest is treated with the kind of respect reserved for divine objects.
Yet we have been taking continuously from the forest to feed the ever – growing need for wood, and wood and non-wood products, to provide land for the burgeoning population for housing and cultivation.
But in the past couple of thousand years, the growing demands of an ever increasing human population has halved the Earth's original forest cover. Deforestation continues at an alarming rate with around 13 million hectares of forest converted or lost each year.
WWF works with local communities to help conserve forests. Often, indigenous people use traditional methods to sustainably manage natural resources, with vital knowledge passed from generation to generation. WWF works with these groups on projects around the world. For example:
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The perfect partnership?
These forests cover nearly 2.7 million hectares across Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France. The harvesting of cork oak offers the perfect model for sustainable land use. As these forests provide a vital source of income for thousands of people they are in turn protected and looked after by local people.
The cork forests also offer vital habitat to other species such as Iberian lynx, Iberian imperial eagle, the barbary deer and play a key role in maintaining watersheds, preventing erosion and keeping soils healthy.