We need a meaningful forestry plan

Entire planting programme has collapsed

Sir, – In her recent article, Una Mullally appears to call for the elimination of the most important forest tree in Ireland (“Irish forests must be freed from the sitka spruce”, Opinion & Analysis, July 25th). The reasons given are rather odd and appear to be simply cover for the fact that she does not like the appearance of coniferous forests.

Ironically, the fire in Killarney National Park in April 2021 had nothing to do with sitka spruce but did engulf some native woodland. Despite this, your columnist goes on from there to claim that the fire demonstrates that sitka is a fire hazard because Ireland has a temperate climate rather than a cold climate and “we need temperate rainforests for our temperate climate”.

As the sitka planted in Ireland is descended from seed collected from sitka’s natural habitat, the temperate rainforests of coastal North America, it is a perfect match, climatically speaking.

Those rainforests are not noted for burning unlike the forest fires increasingly common further inland in western North America which do not involve sitka spruce.


Another point mentioned is carbon capture. We do not have a hundred years to address the problem; as Una Mullally states, the time has passed for “working towards” the “things we need to do now”.

We agree. All the more reason for planting trees as quickly as possible, and sitka has the added benefit that over the first 30 years after planting, it will lock up perhaps 10 times more carbon per unit area than, for example, a native woodland. Yes, in a hundred years the gap will close between a sitka forest and an oak woodland, but by then we will no longer live in a temperate climate and there is the probability that neither sitka nor any of our native broadleaf trees will survive in Ireland.

If we don’t slow global warming by achieving carbon neutrality in the next 30 years, the only trees suitable for growing here may well be pines from inland North America and other dry places or eucalyptus from Australia, and as we know they will certainly burn.

Una Mullally refers to the rhododendron menace, which is killing off ecosystems all across Ireland. Again, ironically, one of the quickest ways to do this would be to clear the rhododendron and plant sitka. It is one of the few trees we have that can suppress rhododendron recovery.

Modern planting practice of commercial forests involves leaving 20 per cent of the area under broadleaves or open space even where sitka is the main element in the mix. It provides riparian zones and setbacks from various features in the landscape. The resulting forests produce huge biodiversity gains compared to the bare land they are planted on, and also valuable timber to help Ireland to become self-sufficient in timber for housing construction and a host of other areas.

At the moment, thanks to poor management by the Forest Service, the entire planting programme has collapsed at the very time we need to expand it to meet climate targets. If a farmer wants to plant any more than a quarter of an acre of native woodland in the corner of a field, by law planting permission must be obtained. This involves applying to the Forest Service with no guaranteed time frame and possible bureaucratic costs that dwarf the actual cost of planting a small native woodland grove. Bizarre – yes. And despite assurances given by the Minister of State responsible for forestry, Pippa Hackett, the issue has not been resolved yet. Legally the situation is unchanged four years after the problem first came to light.

Sitka spruce has a vital role to play in our national afforestation programme, our biodiversity goals, and our economic success. In any case, as of now, we don’t have any meaningful afforestation programme, regardless of tree species. Current afforestation rates are the lowest they have been since at least the 1940s. – Yours, etc,



Tree Council of Ireland,

Dublin 18.