An Taisce puts forward a nuanced view on the beef/forestry issue which takes in the multiple objectives of the natural environment including Climate Change, Biodiversity and Water.
This comes under ‘LULUCF’ (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) and any LULUCF position that does not address Soil Carbon has no credibility.

Different Soil Types contain varying amounts of ‘Soil Organic Carbon’ ranging from Bogland with high C to Arable. Switching from one land use to another on the scale envisaged will impact on the amount of Carbon sequestered or released. [Note 1]

Soil organic Carbon (C) content is the most important terrestrial Carbon store and globally it is bested as a store only by the atmosphere and the ocean.

Peatlands have the highest levels of Carbon and globally contain twice the Carbon of the world’s forests. Ireland has a high cover of peatland, wetlands and high C soils in the west of Ireland, in our uplands and in our wetlands. Soil C is a political hot potato. No one wants to address turf cutting, peat burning or peat extraction.

However, the protection and restoration of these C sinks should be the top priority. This is reflected by the most up to date research and is accepted at an EU level. It also has spin off benefits for biodiversity and water quality as these areas of “natural constraint” have avoided intensification to some extent and still support important habitats and high nature value farming systems.

The forestry sector wants to increase afforestation but areas with mineral soils are off limits due to intensive beef and dairy carried out in our lowlands. Marginal land where extensive farming is carried out is where forestry has tended to go and where it is ear marked to go in the future. These tend to be areas with high C soil.

Our current LULUCF approach to forestry currently ignores soil Carbon completely. Only the above ground Carbon in the trees, the Carbon in the wood products and the emissions offset by replacing fossil fuels with biomass are calculated.

Consideration must be given to the loss of Soil C with time when you plant forestry on high soil C and the soil C lost through clear felling. Wood products with a short shelf life such as MDF and composite wood products will return CO₂ to the atmosphere relatively quickly.

Ideally we would have a LULUCF position that promotes peatland stewardship and high nature value farming systems on areas with high soil C. Native woodland establishment on suitable soils would also be positive as would wetland and peatland restoration.

Replacing extensive beef farming systems with forestry on areas of high soil C sites will have a negative impact on them as Carbon sinks. These are the very areas which will be targeted for afforestation as these are also the areas for whom the generous forestry grants will be most attractive.

There are other effects of afforestation. Forestry in our uplands is a major pressure and threat to biodiversity and this is reflected in our Article 17 reports under the Habitats Directive. Hen Harriers are being driven to extinction due to forestry. Forestry is also a major driver of the loss of high status sites under the Water Framework Directive and this is impacting on Freshwater Pearl Mussel and Salmon etc.

Climate Change is the greatest issue of our time but the earth’s sixth mass extinction isn’t far behind. We have legal obligations to address climate change, biodiversity loss and water quality and our policies have to be in line with these obligations. Currently the LULUCF position being put forward is biased towards the intensification of our agriculture and forestry sectors and do not reflect what is best for our social, environmental or economic future.

Ireland is lagging behind internationally, as many countries are embracing the potential of wetland and peatland restoration to deliver societal benefits in the form of climate, biodiversity and tourism.

The climate impact of Europe’s degraded peatlands was recently highlighted by the Nordic Council of Ministers in Paris at COP 21, as was their potential to contribute positively to efforts to reduce emissions and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Peatlands have an outstanding ability to capture CO₂ and have been described as the most space-effective stocks of organic carbon on the planet. Drainage of wetland areas, however, results in substantial emissions of CO₂ and other greenhouse gases. 15% of the world’s wetlands, or a mere 0.4% of the earth’s total land area, have been degraded. Nevertheless, annual emissions from drained peatlands are more than 2Gt, equivalent to 5% of all anthropologic carbon emissions. [Note 2]

In Belarus, they are restoring 51,000 ha of degraded peatland, turning the land from a net source of carbon into a net sink and creating important habitats for threatened bird species. [Note 3]

The Scottish government announced on Saturday that they will be restoring 8,500 hectares of their internationally important blanket bogs. [Note 4]

We need to protect and restore our peatlands and we need to support high nature value farming and conservation through targeted agri-env schemes. Supporting these farmers means that they are not replaced with intensive farming and intensive forestry which would result in increased emissions. Schemes that tie in practices that cause the soils on farm to reach C saturation should be researched and encouraged.


For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
Fintan Kelly, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce Tel: +353 1 707 7066 email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

Note [1] EPA Infographic of soil types
Note [2]
Note [3]
Note [4]