Opinion

What’s wrong with planting lots of trees in Co. Leitrim?

I have to take issue with MEP Marian Harkin’s assertion that private forestry development and large-scale tree planting in places like Co. Leitrim will erode the fabric of the communities that live in these areas.

The doomsday scenario that she portrays of big business buying up many of our existing small farms is pretty wide of the mark, given that the landowners already ‘in situ’ have the option of planting out parts of their own properties or joining together with neighbours in a ’co-operative’ venture.

It’s not as if the land across large swathes of Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo is capable of sustaining bumper wheat and barley crops. However, the land in question is perfectly suited to the growing of trees. So why not make best use of this natural advantage?

The grants available for private sector woodland development have never been more attractive. But that’s only part of the story.

There is money in trees. Standing timber prices are starting to take off around the world. And it’s not just their immediate commodity value that is ‘fuelling’ this trend.

In reality, the concept of carbon trading is the real driver behind what could be a very attractive proposition for Irish landowners. And this is a concept which the EU and other economic blocks around the world will further endorse over the coming years.

The principle is a simple one: International businesses, wishing to improve their environmental credentials, are now keen to purchase carbon credits from other groupings involved in carbon sequestration activities.

The end result should be a reduction in the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Pundits are already claiming that carbon trading could become a business worth billions of euro over the next 20 years or so.

All of this will come as good news to those wanting to get involved in woodland and forestry development, as trees can be regarded as a carbon ‘sump’ with the potential to remove significant tonnages of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over many decades.

There are significant areas of land in Ireland that could be put to best economic use on the back of creative woodland development initiatives. And the blanket planting of Sitka Spruce is the last thing that we should be considering in this context.

There are ample opportunities to put in place creative woodland development projects which maximise the conservation value of trees.

The fact is that, here in Ireland, we enjoy a uniquely advantageous climate in which to grow trees. And the economics of woodland are not just centred on the final value of the trees when they are eventually felled.

Tree planting creates new habitats, which helps enrich the environment and the conservation value of the landscape. This, in turn, can help create new visitor attractions with an emphasis on education and recreation. It’s time we started converting some of this undoubted potential into reality.