Since it is International day of Forests the 21st of March and Tree Week in Ireland is starting the end of March, I thought it was a good month to focus on learning a bit more about the importance of forests and the problems with deforestation and also what I can do to help a bit. And I thought why not share my findings with you and from now on call it #MarchForestMonth
If I can choose a favourite place to be it would be in a nice old forest in Ireland, where everything is covered in moss, with little streams and gorgeous old Oaks. It's such a magical place. I love the smell, the sounds and it also feels a bit mysterious.
Why the forest is important
But not only is the forest a beautiful place that reconnects you to nature and has a calming effect, trees and forests have many important functions. Trees help clean the air we breathe by absorbing pollutants and releasing clean oxygen, filter the water we drink, and provide habitat to over 80% of the world's land animals and plants. Forests are crucial for our climate because they balance the Earth's water cycle which is essential for cooling the earth and trees are the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which keeps the earth from warming up further. Also, trees play a key role in capturing rain water and reducing risk of natural disasters like floods and landslides.
Forestry in Ireland
Unfortunately it's not going that well with the forests in Ireland. Over the centuries, Ireland experienced a near-total destruction of its forests mainly because of human activity and change in climate: from an initial forest cover of around 80% to less than 1%. Ireland is the only country in Europe where such complete forest destruction took place. Nowadays about 10.5 per cent of Ireland’s land is covered by trees, which still puts Ireland lowest on the list in Europe shared with Malta. Even though there is a plan made by the Government to raise the forest cover to 18 per cent by 2046, under the Strategic Plan for the Development of Forestry, targets haven't been met in 2015, 2016 and 2017 (numbers 2018 I don't know about), where 2017 saw the least planting in at least 30 years!
Another problem is that the forestry created is environmentally problematic. Only 2 per cent of Ireland's tree cover exists of semi-natural broadleaf forests (compared with 87 per cent across Europe), the rest is mainly Sitka spruce tree farms and the majority of the new planted trees still comprises these species.
These commercial forests were once introduced to make money with otherwise "useless" land. But planting the same type of trees in crowded, linear rows, which doesn't allow any light to get through, makes there is barely any flora and fauna to be found, which you would find in abundance in the natural forests. Unlike broadleaf woodlands, Irish Sitka spruce monocultures require fertilisers and pesticides. On top of that, their harvesting also creates quite a mess. Sitka plantations are clear-felled over vast areas at the time generating acid sulphate, affecting waterways, and leaving whole hillsides scarred for up to two years.
All this is done legally, by the semi-State forestry authority (coillte). In Scandinavia, and UK Sitka spruce is officially an invasive species, and is being replaced.
Yet in Ireland, it just keeps on being planted.
Deforestation all over the world
Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests in order to make the land available for other uses.
Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Main causes for deforestation are farming, grazing of livestock, logging and drilling. Forestry practices, wildfires and, in small part, urbanization account for the rest. In Malaysia and Indonesia, forests are cut down to make way for producing palm oil, which can be found in everything from shampoo to food. In the Amazon, cattle ranching and farms—particularly soy plantations—are key culprits.
About half of the world's tropical forests have been cleared, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO.
The Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests per year, which is equal to 27 soccer fields every minute, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
It is estimated that 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, according to the WWF.
In 2016, global tree cover loss reached a record of 73.4 million acres (29.7 million hectares), according to the University of Maryland.
We must stop losing natural forests and accelerate forest landscape restoration in order to reverse climate change, live healthy lives and keep animals from going extinct.
So what can we do?
I've made a list with easy things you can do:
- First of all I think we should gain more knowledge, start reading and watching more about it.
Find a list of the sources I have used for this blog underneath.
Also I would absolutely recommend watching the documentary 'Le Temps de Forets'. An absolute brilliant documentary which shows perfectly wherre it is going wrong with forest practices at the moment. I've seen the film at at the French Film festival in Cork.
- Install Ecosia as your search engine for free
This search engine does exactly work like Google, but is a non-profit organisation that plants tree when you use it
- If you have a garden or farm land, plant native deep rooting broad leaf trees.
(and do some research beforehand)
- Eat less meat
The meat industry is one of the most unsustainable industries in the world and causes massive deforestation of tropical rainforests, not only to keep the actual life stock but also for the production
of food for cattle.
- In Ireland it is tree week from the 31th of March till the 7th of April, check if there is a local event
you can join
- Avoid products with Palm Oil in it
If you want to go a bit further you can support initiatives that plant trees like hometree.ie, crann.ie, the Tree Council in Ireland and Weforest & OneTreePlanted with their projects all over the world.
There is also options to offset your carbon emissions, for instance when you fly a lot. I only know that WeForest is a good company but there are plenty more.
Now, I think this blog is long enough for now. I am looking forward to learn more about it all this month and hopefully start a partnership with a tree planting organisation and also do some planting myself if there is something going on in Cork! Follow me on Instagram or Facebook this month for more information and tips.
Sources for this blog:
History of Forestry in Ireland > https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/forestry/advice/general-topics/history-of-forestry-in-ireland/
21st Century Deforestation in Ireland > https://www.epa.ie/researchandeducation/research/researchpublications/researchreports/EPA%20RR%20221%20essentra_web.pdf
Ireland’s native woodlands are quietly disappearing
Ireland has great woodland but has the lowest forest cover of all European countries
Ireland is way behind on its tree-planting schedule
Crann ‘Trees for Ireland’ is a organisation set up to raise awareness of the environmental importance of trees, hedgerows and woodland.
Why it is important to plant trees and hedgerows
Planting trees is good for the environment, right? Yes, but only if we plant the right trees in the right places, a Coillte conference on climate change and forestry heard
Planting native trees can help battle to control flooding
Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects
The beef industry and deforestation
5 Reasons to Avoid Palm Oil