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Because of their vital role in regulating atmospheric gases – absorbing CO₂ and releasing oxygen – it is often said that forests are the ’lungs of the world’. Forests captivate our imaginations and play an important role in making our planet habitable: the Amazon rainforest alone stores 90-140 billion tons of carbon and is home to around one in ten known species on earth¹.

Forests also play a vital role in the water cycle, helping to maintain stable local and regional weather patterns and rainfall² and whilst protecting communities from drought. But the world’s forests have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses. While the rate of loss has slowed, we have still been losing around 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020³.

By far the leading cause of global deforestation, accounting for over 40% of the total, is the expansion of grazing land for cows. Forests are often burned to make space for productive grazing pasture, releasing huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere and causing irreparable damage to these precious ecosystems.

The second biggest contributor to deforestation is oilseed production. This is responsible for around 18% of deforestation and includes soya beans, 77% of which are used as animal feed⁴, mostly fed to factory farmed pigs and chickens.

International demand for animal products and feed for farmed animals is driving deforestation worldwide, but it is also preventing the recovery of land where forests have already been lost. Switching to a plant-based diet would reduce pressure on pristine forests and help countries like the UK to reforest large areas of land, restoring vital habitat for native animals and plants, taking carbon from the atmosphere and helping to manage water resources.

International action is needed to protect the remaining forests we have and the communities who rely on them, but by taking the 7-day Plate Up for the Planet pledge you can join the millions of people worldwide who are already making a difference.