Ireland’s afforestation targets have received a significant boost due to a new investment by Microsoft – namely the Irish Forest Creation project.

Natural Capital Partners, a company specialising in working with businesses on meeting their environmental commitments, is in collaboration with Microsoft to use the investment to assist in achieving afforestation objectives in Ireland.

The project, with the participation of Microsoft, will facilitate the planting of trees on 137ha of land around the country over the next two years. UK forestry experts, Forest Carbon Ltd, and Irish-based forest managing company Green Belt, are working with Natural Capital Partners to source sites and set up and maintain the forests for the programme.

Ireland, together with the Netherlands, is the joint least forested country in Europe, and the project is expected to make a contribution to the goal of generating new native woodland, in line with the 2014-2020 Forestry Programme – a condition not yet being met.

As well as this, the projected forests should sequester about 35,600t of carbon over 40 years, which would be the equivalent to taking 7,500 passenger cars out of use for one year.

Stephen Killeen, CEO of Natural Capital Partners, said: “This programme demonstrates the increasing role of corporates in contributing to the commitments countries have made to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

It is a powerful example of the continual evolution in business climate leadership and the types of intervention that will become increasingly critical to delivering long-term positive impact on both emissions and the world’s natural capital.

The project was drawn up by Natural Capital Partners. It will give funding to land owners who commit to new native forest creation, which will be an addition to the payments land owners can get from the Irish Forestry Service.

Creators of the scheme see it as ideal for farmers looking to diversify their income, and believe the scheme makes the establishment of native woodlands a more viable option for revenue generation. The project started planting on sites in Kerry, Cork and Galway during April and May, while the remainder of the scheme will take place next year.

“We have been contracted to supply the native woodland sites for this project which is the first scheme of its kind in Ireland,” said John O’Reilly, CEO of Green Belt.

This could herald a new chapter for Irish forestry and a first step towards valuing and compensating land owners for the eco-system services their forests provide.

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director of Microsoft Ireland, said: “In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment to become carbon neutral. We also created a fund for investment into both internal and external carbon reduction activities.”

Minister of State, Andrew Doyle, also commented on the announcement saying: “This new and innovative contribution to our planting programme is very welcome and I am pleased to see that the fund will operate seamlessly with my department’s afforestation scheme.”