Letter to the editor: Ireland must plant more trees

As I sit in my kitchen with what seems like my 50th cup of tea for the day, during our second national lockdown, and yet again another Met Éireann weather warning, I look out the window and see an elderly horse chestnut tree once again been beaten down by the wind.

As the dying leaves hold on as best they can, I can’t help but think this is an important image. The tree, which must be well past 100-years-old, is like an ancient warrior which could be part of the solution for two of humankind’s most current and important threats.

These of course being the current coronavirus pandemic, and secondly climate change, the latter which has the potential to be much more destructive to human life, both economically and socially.

If fact, one could argue that the current coronavirus situation is a warm up for climate change.

Benefits of trees

Trees serve a number of functions. Primarily, they remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

They are also a huge benefit for biodiversity. For these reasons alone, in my opinion, Ireland must plant more trees, and native trees at that.

The Irish governments up to now have not done a good enough job at dealing with trying to prevent climate change. To back up my point, the SEAI [Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland] released a report earlier this year stating that Ireland is second last in the EU when meeting its 2020 targets.

Also, relevant to this article, when it comes to national forestry cover, we are again one of the lowest, with only 11% of our lands covered with forests.

The greater majority of the species are spruce and pine trees, which may suit economically, but it is not ideal for biodiversity. It is in my view that the Irish government needs to be more aggressive with planting more trees and the right tree at that.

Incentivise landowners

The best way to encourage this is with grants for landowners, but also, in my opinion the government should actively go out and buy land and plant native trees.

This has numerous benefits. As already mentioned – my point for carbon sequestration and biodiversity purposes, but also for recreation purposes.

As societies both nationally and globally become more urban and are removed from nature, more recreational forests near large urban areas are a must. For example, near my home in Kilkea, Co. Kildare, is a Coillte-owned woodland – Mullaghreelan woods.

These woods, at just over 100ac, are a very important amenity for the local area, and are in constant use, and are a huge benefit for both physical and mental wellbeing.

I am confident that more relational woodlands like this being created near urban areas would be of huge benefit for the country. With the Green Party in government, projects like this should be discussed, and would be a greater benefit than growing salads on south facing window sills (no offence to Minister Ryan)!

The economic opportunities of planting more trees are positive too. The forestry industry employs roughly 12,000 people in the state, and mostly from rural areas. The industry needs to be protected and grown.

International examples

If we need inspiration for afforestation programs, we will have to look globally. China and Pakistan for example have had large afforestation projects in recent years, and while we may be geographically different, their effort should be commended. Both countries will reap the benefits for decades to come.

With regard to coronavirus, planting trees may have been a prevention to the disease, and for future potential pandemics.

Many of the world’s top scientists are all in agreement that with the destruction of our forests, we are removing our natural protection barriers of these potential diseases.

With this information, it is another reason why all global leaders should make it a priority to have larger afforestation programmes. While this will be expensive, the cost of managing and controlling Covid-19, and the global recession that it has caused, has cost us much more economically, and maybe more importantly, socially.

So afforestation projects should be seen as an investment, with numerous benefits! Green Party, take note.

From Gavin Stanley, Co. Kildare.