Ability of peatlands and hedgerows to reduce carbon ‘must not be overlooked’

An independent MEP for the Midlands-North West region has criticised the European Commission on forestry policy that has resulted in a substantial amount of agricultural land planted with Sitka spruce trees in Co. Leitrim .

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg at the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the independent Roscommon MEP, Luke Ming Flanagan, raised the issue of Ireland’s hedgerows, which cover up to 6.4% of the land in Ireland, yet do not get factored into the percentage of tree cover in the Forestry Strategy.

In Ireland we often get hit with the figure of 11% tree cover or forest cover but our traditional hedgerows contain some of the most diverse and sustainable trees planted in Ireland.

Flanagan also questioned the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, on the issue of carbon sequestration; the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form.

Under the current Forestry Strategy – which aims to increase forest cover in Ireland to 17% – peatlands, bogs and wetlands are often planted with Sitka spruce in the name of carbon sequestration, ignoring the potential of the land to sequester much more CO2 as it is.

“We have a situation in Ireland now where people go around patting themselves on the back, saying ‘my hectare of Sitka spruce is sequestering 12t of carbon per ha,’ and ignoring the fact that they planted it on land that, potentially, was originally sequestering 40t of carbon per ha,” said Flanagan at the committee meeting.

If we are serious about reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we need to move away from this idea of hitting a crude percentage of forest cover.

Concluding, Flanagan also highlighted the over-reliance on Sitka spruce trees, and noted the in-hospitality of these plantations to many of Ireland’s native birds and wildlife.