The west of Ireland is known for its enthralling natural beauty. But the great brown hills that we associate with untouched wilderness are nowhere near as wild as they should be.
Though these areas look untamed, they’re a graveyard for the rapidly disappearing Atlantic Rainforest. These diverse ecosystems now only exist in small pockets, where they have been left miraculously undisturbed.
While it’s impossible to completely restore these forests, rewilding and regeneration action could hugely improve the situation – unfortunately, Coillte, the government body responsible, appear to be prioritizing profits.
The timber industry is doing severe damage to the Irish ecosystem. The investment in for-profit forests in the place of rewilding projects is contributing to the decline of Irish ecosystems.
The most profitable export for Coillte is the Sitka Spruce – an invasive species. They are grown in large plantations as a monoculture, meaning there’s only one species of plant for miles.
This is having an especially negative impact on the west coast, contributing to the disappearance of the Atlantic Rainforest. These ecosystems are dying out, as priority is placed on industry.
Only 11% of Irelands total land mass is forested area- a sparse number compared to dryer European countries like Spain, which boasts 30% total forest coverage.
Although this figure is already low, the fact that only 1% of this figure is native, natural forest is the real issue: an example of Irelands rapid ecological decline.
Contrary to native ‘Broadleaf’ forests, Coillte forests are planted in tight rows, blocking all sunlight and killing any scrub on the forest floor. Dead zones remain – brown forest floors with no life.
This lack of scrub drives out local wildlife: the food chain is upset at its beginning. Devoid of other life, Sitka forests exist only to be cut down and then replanted.
As the forests go up, silence comes over the land, a subtle but shocking reminder of the effect profiteering has on the environment.
Coillte’s focus on timber exports is the driving force behind this practice. In a statement released in April, the organisation announced a revenue of €479m in 2022.
In a statement outlining their forestry strategy from 2023-2027, Coillte announced that they aim to reach at least 18% forest cover by 2050.
The statement highlights that the strategy “aims to create the conditions that will lead to a substantial increase in forest cover” but does not clarify if it will be achieved through plantations.
Thankfully, Coillte is a state-owned company. Therefore, the public can exert influence over their strategies. In 2022, 99 citizens partook in discussion and debate with Coillte over their future practices.
According to a statement released afterword, Coillte found “there is a strong preference for a greater diversity of trees within forests and a greater diversity of forest types across Ireland.”
Alongside this it was announced that 50% of all new forests were to be either native or broadleaf, which will be grown mainly to reduce carbon emissions, but also encourage biodiversity.
Coillte has been accused of greenwashing in the past, but with public action and discourse, more aesthetically and environmentally profitable forests could cover Ireland in the next 20 years.
With the right management, the Irish countryside would once again become a hub of nature – native forests would not only encourage wildlife, but also contribute to lowering carbon emissions.
From the Sally Gap to Glenveagh, the west coast could be a shining example of the beauty that arises from sustainable forestry- but only if we put in the effort.