Don’t overlook our hedgerows and peatlands

Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan has blasted Commissioner Phil Hogan on the controversial Forestry policy which has seen 50% of agricultural land in Leitrim planted in Sitka spruce trees.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg at the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the Roscommon MEP for Midlands Northwest raised the issue of Ireland’s hedgerows, which cover up to 6.4% of the land in Ireland, yet do not get factored into the percentage of tree cover in the Forestry Strategy.

“In Ireland we often get hit with the figure of 11% tree cover or forest cover but, our traditional hedgerows contains some of the most diverse and sustainable trees planted in Ireland.”

Mr. Flanagan also questioned Commissioner Hogan on the issue of carbon sequestration; the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. Under the current Forestry Strategy which aims to increase forest cover in Ireland to 17%, peatlands, bogs and wetlands are often planted with Sitka spruce in the name of carbon sequestration, ignoring the potential of the land to sequester much more CO2 as it is.

“We have a situation in Ireland now where people go around patting themselves on the back, saying My hectare of Sitka spruce is sequestering 12 tonnes of carbon per hectare, and ignoring the fact that they planted it on land that potentially, was originally sequestering 40 tonnes of carbon per hectare.” said Mr Flanagan at the committee meeting.

“If we are serious about reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we need to move away from this idea of hitting a crude percentage of forest cover.”

Mr Flanagan also highlighted the over-reliance on Sitka spruce trees, and noted the inhospitality of these plantations to many of our native birds and wildlife.