Forestry and the climate crisis

Cost-benefit analysis

Sir, – What EU law has helped us to recognise since the 1990s is that planting trees in a plantation creates a habitat, a world of its own, interacting with surrounding nature, which affects our human habitats for better or worse.

Unlike the inert road, the habitat of a forestry plantation is quickly repopulated with species of plant and animal that suit the non-native conifer, which is the most commonly planted tree on state forests. These non-native conifers have been at the heart of a successful timber industry for nearly 50 years.

But because there is only one or two species of tree, all the same age, this plantation habitat is essentially vulnerable to one or two species of pests or disease, arriving from Europe or somewhere else. Some 300,00 hectares of State plantations are composed of one or two species, on 25- to 40-year cycles, which were planted before environment was a consideration.

Since the 1970s, there have been over 18 EU laws, directives and regulations to support Irish forests of conifer plantations and other species of plantation. It is hard not to realise that the direction of EU support is towards the more resilient and sustainable native and mixed tree species continuous forests.


Although the EU still grant-aids the conifer plantation for road building and standards, most support is going to the planting of broadleaf and native small plantation, and the restoration of continuous woodlands.

These more “close to nature forests” have more resilience, protection and sustainability in the event of future climate events.

It is also worth noting that all this EU guidance in forestry development from the great depths of European experience in wood and forest management has been negotiated and agreed upon by Irish government ministers, and MEPS.

Maybe it is time for the Government to sign up for all available EU support to increase the planting of local and mixed trees in more resilient, continuous forests.

New investment in education is needed to expand forestry management for timber production in biodiverse, native forests. Then, instead of being seen as a hindrance to forestry development, rare and endangered species would then find a welcome place in these forests as a sign of the success of management. This style of forestry leads to greater carbon capture and storage over a long period, and could be developed alongside the non-native conifer plantations. – Yours, etc,



Honorary Associate

The Environmental

Humanities Centre,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The public consultation on the future of forestry ends this evening (November 29th) at 5pm.

We have examined the numerous draft documents – forest plan, implementation plan, strategic environmental assessment, and appropriate assessment – but nowhere have we been able to find a cost-benefit analysis.

The most recent cost-benefit analysis was prepared in advance of the last 2014-2020 State aid programme. After examining this programme, the Comptroller & Auditor General reported in 2018 that, “A number of cost factors, while noted, were not included in the analysis due to the difficulty in quantifying a figure. These included the tax treatment of forestry, the cost of agricultural supports, and the displacement of other activities.”

Without the inclusion of these factors, the cost benefit was given as 1:18. However, “Around 39 per cent of the benefit was calculated to come from carbon sequestration based on an assumed value of ¤39 per tonne of carbon dioxide”.

In what will appear to most people as counter-intuitive, the Environmental Protection Agency’s June 2022 projections shows that from this year onwards, Irish forestry will not be sequestering carbon but rather emitting it.

The problem is that non-native conifers are typically planted on peaty soils which dry out when drained for planting and subsequently clear-felled, leading to more emissions from the loss of the soil’s carbon sink than is absorbed by the short life of the trees.

Given that we have identified climate change as the single most important environmental issue, the failure of these extensive documents to provide a cost-benefit analysis recognising the EPA’s new projections could be said to render these consultations somewhat moot. – Yours, etc,


Friends of the

Irish Environment,


Co Cork.