Irish forestry – conifers and broadleaves

 

Sir, – With all due respect to Ted Farrell (March 30th), who champions the promotion of non-native conifers across our countryside, the suggestion that broadleaves “have their merits, but they don’t put bread and butter and the other essentials of life on the table” has no foundation in fact.

The origins of the current forestry programme lie in the 1996 policy document, Growing for the Future, whose wildly unrealistic plan required 20,000 hectares of EU funded conifers per year to allow for the necessary investment to provide downstream industries, such as paper mills. In truth, planting rates only once reached 20,000 hectares and have struggled to reach 6,000 hectares in the last 10 years, undermining the financial future of even the existing industry.

Broadleaves take longer to grow, but the amount of ash thinnings being imported from the UK for firewood in Ireland, for example, indicates that it is not necessary for owners to wait for maturity to see a financial return.

And instead of displacing our wildlife, broadleaves benefit the environment through their life-long amenity values, diversity of species they support, water retention, and fire-resistant qualities.

Ireland is the only EU country that bases its forestry policy on non-native species.

In countries where forestry is an unbroken tradition, farmers identify and care for their most valuable broadleaf trees, planning their felling and sale to coincide with the need for funding – for their children’s education, for example.

But here the broadleaf component of our 100 per cent grant-aided forestry programme (recently enhanced) has fallen in the last five years from 36 per cent to 20 per cent. The EU’s 75 per cent funding was withdrawn in 2007 because of Ireland’s failure to meet basic environmental standards, freeing the State to ignore environmental values while paying 100 per cent of the cost – both financial and ecological – as non-native highly combustible conifers have spread, unchecked, like a blight across our uplands. – Yours, etc,

TONY LOWES,

Friends of the

Irish Environment,

Eyeries,

Co Cork.