It comes as no surprise to see forestry plantings falling miles below the 8,000 hectare target included in the national Climate Action Plan. A combination of factors is to blame.
Objections to planting licences, be they genuine or vexatious, (and most farmers believe them mostly to be the latter) have bedevilled the sector for years, despite recent improvements.
Then there has been the negative publicity around conifer plantations from environmental campaigners who call it monoculture, and farmers alike- the Save Leitrim campaign highlights that one-fifth of the county is afforested, and question who owns and is profiting from this planting.
There are dangers in placing too much of a burden on forestry in terms of reaching climate targets. The first and most obvious is that we don’t have a lot of land lying around just looking for a new use. Where exactly will we plant?
My understanding is that a lot of the most economically challenged farmland is not considered suitable for forestry, be that due to biodiversity in Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, or soil structural damage and erosion on our uplands.
We have seen the damage an invasive disease like ash dieback can do.
We still don’t know the LULUCF sectoral target, despite the fact that we’re almost halfway between the 2018 base year and the 2030 target
In Czechia, the forestry sector went from being a massive carbon sink to a significant emitter due to damage wrought by the spruce bark beetle. What it if lands here?
We still don’t know the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sectoral target, despite the fact that we’re almost halfway between the 2018 base year and the 2030 target.
What we do know is that the 2021 Climate Action Plan set a “landing zone” of between 37% and 58%. It’s reasonable to assume that we’ll end up with a target of 45% or more.
What’s this “we” business I hear you say? Well, fellow farmer, who else do you think will be left carrying the can for LULUCF?
Farmers own almost all of the land, apart from the recent rash of non-farmer forestry – last year, only 76 farmers planted a combined 520ha of forestry, while 232 non-farmers planted over three times as much.
Then there’s the need for timber to be used as a source of building material, and perhaps as a renewable energy source.
When we consume timber, it no longer ?traps carbon. And new forestry plantations will only trap small amounts of carbon in their early years of growth.
So, should we see a programme to pay forestry owners to keep healthy mature or close to maturing deciduous trees in place? Or do we allow planting of suitable varieties of trees at lower density in the SACs and SPAs, and support that?
Because as it is, we aren’t coming within an ass’s roar of forestry targets or even the most modest LULUCF target.