Environmental benefits of managed poplar forests and plantations

ProPopulus Team

Poplar trees constitute a fundamental part of the European landscape. Historic evidence shows that native poplars in the Po Valley were heavily exploited in Roman times. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the late 18th Century that poplar groves became proper cultivation for the extraction of timber in Europe.

Today, poplar plantations in Europe are concentrated in, Spain, Hungary, Italy, and especially France, which is the European country with the largest concentration of poplar plantations. Here the poplar industry generates 12,000 direct local jobs that cannot be relocated and the same quantity of indirect ones.

But there are many environmental and landscape benefits that sustainably managed poplar forests and plantations provide beyond the economic and social ones that they offer. The raw material for the wood-based transformation industry, fixation of the population in rural areas by creating direct and indirect jobs and economic growth in rural areas, for example.

In short, poplar forests and plantations offer a considerably higher value than the economic value obtained from timber selling. They are a great source of ecosystem services. The areas benefit nature, providing society and the human life therein, the ability to survive by regulating diseases and climate, facilitating pollination and the formation of the soil. It also supplies recreational, cultural, and spiritual value.

Poplar trees preserve soils & water

Poplar plantations and forests can regulate and reduce surface runoff, as well as fix sediments and other contaminants from soils or crops. Their capacity to protect bodies of water is also remarkable. Their roots improve the infiltration in flood areas, producing a flooding effect that helps to reduce the negative impacts of the floods of the rivers.

Poplar plantations and forests are commonly used for phytoremediation, that is the “use of plants for in situ remediation of soils, sludge sediments and contaminated water table waters through elimination, degradation or confinement”.

Biodiversity booster

Poplar groves and forests also contribute to the preservation of biodiversity as beneath them, megaphorbias (giant herbs species) such as guinea fowl fritillaria or other rare plants thrive.

Also, some poplar groves and forests host heronries and others, whose developed shrub layer foster a particular fauna.

Carbon sink

And as all fast-growing trees, poplar has an excellent capacity to purify the air by capturing CO2 and storing it in the biomass of the trees. In one year, a hectare of poplar can capture 11 tons of CO2.

But what does that mean? Well, one ton of CO2 is equivalent to the average carbon dioxide emissions of one passenger on a trip from Paris to New York. So, in one year a hectare of poplar would capture the CO2 equivalent to 11 people traveling from Paris to New York. What is more, the carbon dioxide contained in the grown trees remains stored in the logs and in the panels made from them.

Did you know that

  • Poplar trees purify water as they act as green filters absorbing nitrates and sediments.
  • Poplar trees combine well with agroforestry and can also be planted in otherwise useless lands thus optimizing land use.
  • The existence of poplar plantations and forests in the surroundings of riverbanks means that they are used by the local fauna as ecological corridors for their dispersion.
  • Poplar does not play a particularly eutrophying or acidifying role: its influence is like that of other deciduous riparian species.

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