The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) welcomes the additional funding for forestry schemes announced last week (3/11/22) by Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett. The increased grant and premium rates, as well as an increased duration of payments, will help to resolve problems in expanding Ireland’s forest cover. We particularly welcome the high rates of payment for native forests, forests for protection of water courses and the introduction of a new ‘rewilding’ payment that will incentivise ‘emergent forests’ (although unfortunately the payments are much lower than for other schemes that require planting of trees).
However, the IWT has serious concerns that this significant transfer of public funds to private industry will not come with reforms to a sector that has lost public faith and which remains burdened with unresolved legacy issues that are detrimental to biodiversity, water quality and climate.
Public consultation on Ireland’s forthcoming Forest Strategy has shown that people overwhelmingly want forests that are for nature and climate. However, currently our best guess is that native woodland covers less than 2% of the country – among the lowest in the world – and much of this is in poor condition due to over-grazing and alien invasive species. Dramatically increasing the extent and the ecological quality of Irish forests has to be the main priority if we are to meet biodiversity and climate goals.
Rewilding, i.e. the natural regeneration of forest ecosystems through the self-seeding of trees, is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way of restoring forests. Yet, our approach to forests in Ireland remains predominantly commercially-focussed and based upon planting trees. This has led us to the many mistakes, including from diseases and loss of biodiversity, that hampers forestry to this day.
However, the draft ‘Forest Strategy Implementation Plan’, currently out for public consultation, contains a table of targets, buried deep within the 165-page document that suggest there will be no significant change to how forests are to be managed and that rewilding will be limited to a tokenistic 50 hectares per annum (compared to 4,645ha of Sitka spruce monocultures). This is not what the public, who will be paying for this plan, wants.
Our new Forest Strategy must:
· Protect important biodiversity features such as bogs, sites of ground-nesting birds or species-rich grasslands.
· Control grazing, particularly from sheep, goats and deer, that is preventing the natural regeneration of native forests.
· Restore habitats where plantations were wrongly planted, particularly on peatlands.
· Move away from the destructive cycle of planting monocultures which are then clear-felled, to the detriment of soil, water, carbon storage and biodiversity.
· Ensure that regenerating native forests are protected over the long-term.
· Ensure that perverse incentives are not encouraging forests to be grown for biofuel.
Forest creation is a long-term project but even under the new regime, payments are only guaranteed for 20 years. There is an urgent need to incentivise landowners to not only create, but to pass on to the next generation, healthy forests that will continue to provide biodiversity habitat, clean water and store carbon in perpetuity. The IWT calls on Minister Hackett to ensure that the new Forestry Programme delivers real change to how trees are managed and to break with the detrimental business as usual approach.
: Targets for afforestation proposed under the draft Forest Strategy Implementation Plan