In the coming two decades, the “Green Island” is to once more become as green as it once was in the past. 80 percent of the 84,421 square kilometer island in Northern Europe was formerly covered in forest. Changes in climate, but first and foremost humankind, had by 1929 decimated this forest to just one percent. No other European country has chopped down its trees as mercilessly as Ireland has. Meanwhile, the forest has grown back again in the 20th century thanks to extensive planting ideas from the government.
According to estimates by the National Forest Inventory (NFI), the forest area was 731,650 hectares or 10.5 percent of the total land area in 2012. Although with a total land area of almost 11 percent this was the highest level for more than 350 years, the country still ranks far behind on the European list of forestation ratios. The European average is over 30 percent.
22 million new trees per year
However, the current climate debate has caught up with the almost five million inhabitants of the ‘Emerald Island’. According to the Irish Times, 22 million trees will be planted per year and comprehensive reforestation will take place by the year 2040. A total of 440 million trees will be planted. The government’s climate protection plan published in June estimates an annual planting of 8,000 hectares. In terms of the type and number of trees, the estimates are 2,500 conifers or 3,300 deciduous trees per hectare, the target being 70 percent conifers and 30 percent deciduous trees.
“The target for new forestation is approximately 22 million trees per year. Over the next 20 years, the goal is to plant 440 million,” Treehugger quotes a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Communications, Climate Protection and the Environment. “The climate action plan commits to delivering an expansion of forestry planting and soil management so as to ensure that carbon abatement from land-use is delivered over the period 2021 to 2030 and in the years beyond.”
Let nature do its thing
However, not everyone is fully in favor of this massive reforestation. As The Times reports, the reforestation initiative requires some land-use changes, especially for farmers. They have to designate parts of their land for new trees. However, they are not showing much enthusiasm, although they will be compensated through forest grants. Surprisingly, the farmers receive support from a non-profit nature conservation organization. The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) does not believe that non-native tree species such as the Sitka spruce would fare well in Ireland. In addition, remote coniferous forests would not provide the right habitat for native species.
“People are not good at planting trees and trees do not like being planted. They prefer to plant themselves,” Pádraic Fogarty, IWT Campaign Officer, told The Irish Independent. In his opinion, it would be better to pay them to plant nothing at all and allow their land to grow wild.
“We have a mental block about letting nature do its thing,” he says. “We see a space recovered by nature and we think it’s scrub and wasteland and want to get it back ‘under control’ whereas if we just left it alone, the forest would come back all by itself.”
Ireland’s initiative against climate change also includes other measures such as increasing the number of electric vehicles and modernizing houses.
Other countries plant trees, too
But Ireland is not the only country to plant new trees. A recent wide-ranging study has shown that trees, or intensive reforestation, are one of the most effective strategies against climate change. According to the study, about two-thirds of all CO2 emissions could be captured by planting trees on all unused areas worldwide. As a result of this study, even countries such as Iceland, North Korea, and Ethiopia have started planting new trees. Ethiopia even set a new world record at the end of July – the African nation planted 350 million trees in one single day. Around 23 million people took part in it according to the Ministry of Agriculture. In Germany, the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, and the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder have repeatedly spoken out in favor of massive state reforestation.