The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has welcomed €1.3 million in funding for a new forest programme but warned that money alone will not address problems.
The additional funding for forestry schemes was announced last week by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett.
The funding will be for the next national Forestry Programme and represents the largest investment by an Irish Government in tree planting. The programme will now be the subject of state-aid approval by the European Commission.
The Irish Wildlife Trust said it particularly welcomes the high rates of payment for native forests, forests for protection of water courses and the introduction of a new ‘rewilding’ payment that will incentivise ‘emergent forests’.
However, the IWT also has serious concerns that this significant transfer of public funds to private industry will not come with reforms to a sector that has lost public faith and which remains burdened with unresolved legacy issues that are detrimental to biodiversity, water quality and climate.
“Public consultation on Ireland’s forthcoming Forest Strategy has shown that people overwhelmingly want forests that are for nature and climate.
“However, currently our best guess is that native woodland covers less than 2% of the country – among the lowest in the world – and much of this is in poor condition due to overgrazing and alien invasive species.
“Dramatically increasing the extent and the ecological quality of Irish forests has to be the main priority if we are to meet biodiversity and climate goals,” a spokesperson said.
The Irish Wildlife Trust said that rewilding - the natural regeneration of forest ecosystems through the self-seeding of trees - is the “quickest, cheapest and most effective way of restoring forests” but that the approach to forests in Ireland remains predominantly commercially focussed and based upon planting trees.
“The draft ‘Forest Strategy Implementation Plan’, currently out for public consultation, contains a table of targets, buried deep within the 165-page document that suggests there will be no significant change to how forests are to be managed and that rewilding will be limited to a tokenistic 50 hectares per annum. This is not what the public, who will be paying for this plan, wants.”
The Trust called for the new forest strategy to protect important biodiversity features such as bogs, sites of ground-nesting birds or species-rich grasslands; control grazing that is preventing the natural regeneration of native forests; restore habitats where plantations were wrongly planted; move away from the destructive cycle of planting monocultures which are then clear-felled, to the detriment of soil, water, carbon storage and biodiversity; and ensure that regenerating native forests are protected long-term.