We all love trees. We think of woods and forests as green lungs, peaceful spaces, brimming with wildlife. So when Europe’s least forested country, Ireland, sets a target to increase tree cover from 11% to 18% by 2046, we should all applaud, shouldn’t we? Unfortunately the new woodland rising across Ireland is an ecological dead zone. Sitka spruce plantations, hectare upon hectare of them, now cover what was once nature-rich farmland. Dense blocks of these non-native coniferous trees smother the landscape, driving out wonderful and endangered wildlife such as hen harriers and curlews, birds that could be extinct in Ireland within the decade.
The home of these birds is in farmland officially designated “marginal”, exactly what is considered most suitable for swaths of sterile, densely packed conifers. Ireland’s green image, a place for nature, is a mockery.
For politicians and financiers, marginal means land that is borderline for modern agriculture. It is “rank”, “boggy”, ‘“acid” or “poor”, all words that have unpleasant undertones. Marginal land doesn’t make money compared to the large, industrial farming units, which are usually in more lowland and fertile areas. It can’t, by its very nature, support high densities of livestock or crops. It does, however, produce flowers, insects and ground-nesting birds in abundance, but none of these are money spinners in a traditional sense. The solutions supported by the government are devastating. MORE
Header image: A curlew. ‘The home of these birds is in farmland officially designated ‘marginal’, exactly what is considered most suitable for swaths of sterile, densely-packed conifers.’ Credit: Thomas Hanahoe/Alamy Stock Photo.