Sir David Attenborough has praised an ambitious project that aims to create a global network of protected Commonwealth forests, as the first nations to sign up to the initiative were honoured by the Queen.
The broadcaster and naturalist told the 20 countries who have committed themselves to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) that research has confirmed the scale of the destruction of the planet’s estimated three trillion trees – 15 billion a year with only five billion planted as replacements.
The project is the brainchild of Labour MP Frank Field who had a vision of creating a collection of forest and woodland conservation initiatives across the 52 member states of the Commonwealth. They will be preserved in perpetuity to mark the monarch’s lifetime of service to the family of nations.
Launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year in Malta organisers hope to have all the nations involved by the next gathering of Commonwealth leaders in 2018.
Sir David, who spoke at a Buckingham Palace reception where high commissioners and other representatives received awards recognising their country’s role in the QCC, said: “A recent Yale University Study estimated that there are now about three trillion trees on Earth but we are removing about 15 billion a year with only five billion being planted back.
“Preserving the world’s green corridors, forests, jungles and botanic gardens is the simplest and most effective way to keep breathing life into planet earth.
“Over my nine decades, I have witnessed the devastating effect of the destruction of our forests and disregard for the importance of trees. I do believe that we have an obligation to nurture and replenish our natural environment for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.”
The Queen was joined at the event by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson the most senior Government representative.
Mr Field, who attended the reception, said he had no interest in his project from past Labour and Conservative administrations but found Buckingham Palace was interested in his scheme.
The MP said if the Commonwealth’s rainforests were added together they would be second in a league table behind Brazil, which is home to much of the Amazon.
He added: “It seemed an obvious way for the Commonwealth to do politics in a different way because now it’s the second biggest organisation responsible for rainforests after Brazil.
“So the Commonwealth has a place at the top table when we’re discussing the future of rainforests in a way it never had when it was just wonderful pieces of forest here and there.”
Mr Field co-founded Cool Earth, a charity that works alongside indigenous villages to halt rainforest destruction, and it is a partner in the project along with the Royal Commonwealth Society, and the Commonwealth Forestry Association.
On display in a number of rooms at the palace were boards illustrating the forests signed up to the project from the UK’s Epping Forest and Singapore’s Botanic Gardens to the Seychelles which is planting 20,000 trees and Australia which has dedicated a programme to planting 20 million.
Singapore’s entry was officially acknowledged on behalf of the Queen by Anne during a recent visit to the city state.
Canada’s QCC commitment of the Great Bear Rainforest was unveiled by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited it a few months ago, and Prince Harry will tour a number of QCC dedications during his coming visit to the Caribbean.