Which species of tree should be grown in Ireland, one of the best countries in the world for forestry?
Farmers are being given incentives to look at forestry as an alternative enterprise and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed wants all farmers to plant part of their land.
Sitka spruce — the predominant species in Irish forestry at 53% — has been getting a bad press, with both farmers and wildlife enthusiasts instead calling for a focus on broad-leaf trees such as oak and elm.
There’s no doubt some areas are saturated with sitka spruce whose dense cover drives out wildlife.
You think of Leitrim and the highland countryside of Sliabh Luachra and Duhallow, straddling parts of the counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick, as examples.
These are regions where efforts underway to save the hen harrier, curlew, and freshwater pearl mussel, often against the odds.
Now, Forestry Industries Ireland (FII) — representing growers, manufacturers, and processors of wood — is taking up the cudgels for sitka spruce and challenging what it views as false, unjustified campaigns against the species.
‘’There are massive benefits to growing sitka spruce in well-managed forests, especially as they grab huge amounts of harmful carbon from the atmosphere in order to grow as fast as they do,’’ said an FII spokesman.
Originating in Canada’s Pacific west coast, it thrives here because of our climate and soil conditions, growing much faster than elsewhere in Europe.
We produce about 2m tonnes of timber products in Ireland, annually, which equals the amount of carbon produced by 525,000 cars in Dublin, according to FII.
The 1.6m tonnes of carbon locked away in long-life timber products every year equals the household energy emissions from counties Cork, Kerry, and Waterford.
All of these products are manufactured from sitka spruce trees that are grown all over the country to supply the timber products that we need to build our houses, the FII says.
And there’s the benefit of using wood rather other materials in construction. Wood, typically, has a lower carbon footprint so and its use should cut emissions.
Farmers in Leitrim have called for the plantation of sitka spruce trees there to stop until a study on the environmental impact is conducted.
They say they are concerned about excess planting in recent years, especially by non-farmers and outside investors.
Nationally, our forestry cover is 11%, but in Leitrim, the country’s most afforested county, the level is almost double that.
The national target is to have 18% of land under trees by 2046, which is most unlikely to be reached.
Meanwhile, with Ireland having so many advantages over other countries when it comes to commercially growing sitka spruce, planting is unlikely to stop any time soon.