Today is deadline to have your say on Forestry Strategy

We sent in some thoughts…what do you think?

We didn’t get a copy of the survey but fortunately I kept a lot of the answers if you want to guess the questions…

I’d like to see Ireland have more forests because…(tell us if we missed a few! )

They capture carbon

They clean the air

They provide habitats

They are required for resources e.g. timber for building, paper

They provide recreational opportunities such as hiking, walking

They mitigate climate crisis effects such as flooding

  • They anchor soil preventing erosion

They provide shelter

They assist with food security e.g. providing fruit, nuts for human, and animal/bird/insect etc. species

Trees are proven to be important for physical as well as mental health benefits

Planting trees is a symbolic and practical action to combat climate change

We have a duty to offset national carbon emissions

Climate crisis will not be solved without planting trees

Forests provide employment

Forests for tackling Climate Change and enhancing Biodiversity

Ireland has declared both climate and biodiversity emergencies and has committed to become a climate neutral country by 2050. The Government sees forestry as part of the solution for both issues.

When managed sustainably, forest and trees can make a significant contribution to climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for storing carbon in trees and in long lived timber products. They can also make a significant contribution to biodiversity and environmental protection.

Though  enhancing Biodiversity is vital, CO2 reduction is a priority. If you have ever had to deal with a baby with a high temperature, you know that reducing the temperature is vital. An overheating car? – bring down the temperature. Unless the temperature is brought down efforts to improve biodiversity can only do so much. The goal during the UN decade on Ecosystem restoration is the planting of a trillion trees worldwide. This will bring down global temperature which will buy 17 years of time to address lasting solutions. Of course decarbonising the economy will have to happen in tandem with this approach. Ireland has space to double its canopy without affecting food production or protected lands. We can easily plant 1 billion trees in the republic of Ireland during this decade, one thousandth of the global target. Ireland has more scope to do this than any other country in Europe. See our plan put together with Gerhardt Gallagher, technical advisor to the Tree Council of Ireland on our series, TEDxCrannTreesforIreland 2021.

Forests for People
There is a growing appreciation of the importance of forests for health, wellbeing and recreation with 29 million visits to Irish forests every year.

Privately owned forests can only easily facilitate access if they are not likely to be sued. It is unfair to expect them to do this without addressing this insurance issue. Outdoor learning can take place in urban treescapes also, not just forests. Urban areas are very important in the improvement of Ireland’s tree canopy. Areas such as Dublin docklands have been developed with only the most scant of tree provision. In the “15 minute city” a park within a 15-minute walk is recommended. Many of our urban parks and greens consist of broad sweeps of mowed monoculture grass and parks tend to be operating on skeleton staff. Very few local authorities have tree officers. In many European countries cycle paths are separated from vehicular traffic with linear parks of trees instead of hard landscaping, this is a good option when roads are being re-done.

The Right Trees

According to the National Forest Inventory  approximately 11 % of the land area of Ireland is covered in forest. Approximately 73 % of this is dominated by non-native tree species and the remaining 27 % by broadleaf tree species.  

  David Attenborough is on record as saying that we need both forests left for nature AND sustainably managed tree farms. We need a big increase in all kinds of trees including lots of common Irish trees not on the “native” list, though naturalised such as lime, beech, sycamore etc. Most of the landowners we know with large areas of native woodland they planted themselves only did so because they enjoy them and report little market for these trees. There is little grant support to grow them. They could afford to grow them only as a hobby. It is clear from the preamble to this question with words used such as “dominated by non-native tree species” that replies to this survey are being steered away from conifer planting. Conifers capture carbon winter AND summer and so have special value for carbon capture. Corn is not native, nor is the potato, nor the tomato etc.; why single out trees alone for opprobrium ?

Making it easier for landowners to plant forests through a streamlined regulatory process above; the current regulatory process has resulted in the missing of our national tree planting targets.  Following John Fitzgerald’s advice and scrapping this process, allowing the EPA to take over and instead treating trees like other crops except better for this reason; needing  permission to plant more than a bag of 300 trees on .1 of ha makes everyone question our seriousness about climate action when they hear this. Especially people we deal with abroad. It is like needing a license to not-wear-makeup or a license to grow your hair or a beard.  As in hair is what grows for most people if they leave things to nature. Trees will grow when the land is left be in around four fifths of all Ireland’s landmass, it is the default state. A 15k zone around protected sites where no planting is permitted rules out vast swathes of the country and is a much greater restriction than in other similar jurisdictions.

This vision strikes us as being completely challenging to achieve without dropping the current regulatory  system with its reported delays of sometimes several years for routine requests to be processed. Re; ” the improvements in management evident under the 2014-2020 Forestry Programme. ” As far we are aware during the 2014-2020 Forestry Programme there has been a reversal of the rate of tree planting in Ireland since for example the 1990s if state statistics are accurate.  We are unaware of any standout improvements. The timber industry has been reported widely as having gone into reverse mode. Our saplings were being exported to Scotland in 2021 or ploughed under since farmers could not obtain permission to plant. The sawmills are struggling as is the building industry. A Crann member and great tree-lover sold his forest as he could not get a thinning license when he needed it and he lost 5,000 euro in revenue for that reason. This stipulation, more restrictive than anywhere we are aware of in the world of needing licensing for over .1 of a ha of planting, the size of my front garden is an example of how if one were designing a way to stop anyone planting a tree it would be the current regulatory stranglehold. I know of one tree planter who is reduced to planting saplings in wellington boots for school graduations as his previous planting business has folded. We know of another highly qualified project manager who had great ambitions for planting for carbon offsetting and gave up after 2 years of trying to secure permissions. Ash dieback will lead to our having a landscape even worse hit than the 1980s scourge of Dutch Elm disease with 80% of our main hedgerow tree expected to succumb. We have heard reports that hedgerows have been ripped up wholesale and reduced to stumps in some cases this has been instigated by local authorities with an “either you cut them down or we will” approach.  Healthy trees are often disregarded and felled because of the apparent notion by some in the insurance industry that the only good tree is a felled tree. People are afraid to plant a tree looking at TV insurance ads with trees falling on houses and cars as if this was a major threat when the much more common threats e.g. of flooding, high winds and drought can be mitigated by trees. Even the North of Ireland has far better tree protection than we have in the Republic of Ireland. The emphasis on native tree planting leads to decision making counter to sensible addressing of climate action. I further support the views submitted by Dr. Rory Harrington, Crann – Trees for Ireland and the Tree Council of Ireland. I went against proposals above to set up more commissions and committees. Simplifying tree planting and rewarding this good behaviour is the way forward. Pay farmers the same as what they are paid to raise cattle when growing trees. No farmer in a country like ours where famine is central in our history can feel at ease signing over a family farm in perpetuity. A very good crop can be grown in 20 to 30 years with many species. Forever is an unfair clause to have to agree to and may be imprudent as who can see the future. Also why cut off a subsidy after 15 years? Restricting species to the narrow genetic pool of our native 28, now reduced due to the absence of ash and elm to 26 without a rational basis seems damaging and defy logic. We’ve heard reports where beautiful mature beech trees were removed for the sole reason that the native woodland grant would not be allowable with such trees on the site. Given that our indigeneous species are under severe stress and becoming more so under increasing unusual climate patterns this insistence on restricting grant aid for certain grants to a narrow list of native trees seems damaging. We question the constitutionality of a requirement to sign over land in perpetuity. It is self evident that this requirement will ensure low uptakes of planting by land owners.

Thoughts on Rewilding as best practice; sounds great in theory; in practice, it appears that it can take a very long time to establish forest/woodland which would be fine if we had centuries to sort the climate. It is an urgent matter though, the climate. A danger with rewilding I’ve heard is that you will get a lot of invasive species or whatever is local which may not have much variety, e.g. all sycamore.

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