Campaigners raise fears over Leitrim blanket afforestation

Save Leitrim group protester says conifer plantations ‘killing everything that’s under it’

Members of the Save Leitrim group holding a Communities Not Conifers rally outside the Dáil, on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Save Leitrim group holding a Communities Not Conifers rally outside the Dáil, on Wednesday. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

A group concerned about the expansion of forestry in Co Leitrim has held a protest outside the Dáil claiming that communities are being displaced and the environment is being harmed as a result of Irish forestry policy.

Farmers and residents from Leitrim say they are concerned about the level of afforestation in recent years, particularly by non-farmers and investors.

The Save Leitrim group was joined by supporters from other counties as they gathered outside Leinster House to protest about forestation and in particular the use of Sitka spruce.

One protester, Sean McLoughlin, said it was about the “blanket afforestation of marginal land in the west of Ireland, but especially in Leitrim”.

“We are already at a level where nearly 20 per cent of the arable farmland has been planted on in Leitrim. We are saying it’s time to stop.”

Futhermore, “the conifer plantations are killing everything that’s under it”. He said rivers were being polluted too.

Gerry Loftus of the Irish Natura And Hill Farmers Association said he believes “there is no life” beneath Sitka plantations.

“There is no biodiversity whatsoever. Nothing lives on the floor of the forest because it is sprayed with all sorts of chemicals.” He said he believed the spread of such forestation was harming local communities.

Broadleaf trees

“The other thing here is the devastation to communities. When you move people out of the villages and communities and parishes, you remove an awful lot of other things.” He said the group was not against the planting of trees, but rather they wanted to see broadleaf trees being planted.

Meanwhile the Government announced on Tuesday that an independent study on the economic, social and environmental impacts of forestry in Co Leitrim had been commissioned.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Andrew Doyle said the study was in response to calls for a review of the effects of publicly-funded afforestation in the county.

The study will be led by Dr Áine Ní Dhubháin, of the UCD school of agriculture and food science. The report will be concluded by late-summer.

Mr Doyle said the study would assist with making evidence-based policy decisions in relation to forestry in the county.

“There are widely differing and often contradictory claims reported about the economic, social and environmental impacts of land use change to forestry,” he said.

‘Common claims’

“It’s important that these claims are evidence based and the goal of this study is to review some of the common claims and perceptions made about forestry in Co Leitrim.

“Its findings can provide information to local communities and the wider sector so they understand the impacts of the expansion of the forest sector and will obviously help to inform Government policy”.

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said he hoped the study would provide a greater understanding of the effects of the expansion of the forest sector.

“There are often differing claims reported on the impact of afforestation,” he said. “But one thing that is crystal clear is that local farmers and their families in Co Leitrim are very concerned about the impact it is having on their communities.