My Department’s policy is to increase species diversity within the national forest estate; to this end increasing afforestation levels across all planting categories is supported with higher rates reserved for broadleaf species. Under the current forestry programme new species have been added to the mix to create more diversity and to target climate change mitigation. Under the forestry for fibre scheme, eucalyptus and poplar have been introduced. These species have a much shorter rotation than traditional forestry where clearfell can take place after 15 years as opposed to between 35 and 40 for more traditional forestry. As a renewable energy source material wood can help to displace fossil fuels as a source of heating in local markets and can help meet demand created by the recently launched SSRH scheme.
As one of our fastest growing tree species, Sitka spruce has an important role to play in carbon sequestration. It grows well in Ireland because it is suited to our soils and climate. It has been grown successfully for over 80 years and it has proven itself to be one of the most productive coniferous species grown in Ireland and as such has become the industry’s mainstay in terms of timber processing and end markets. My Department’s recent publication “Forest Statistics – Ireland 2017” states that Sitka spruce is the most common species, occupying 52.4% of the forest area. There are twelve different planting categories within the Department’s afforestation scheme and the most popular, known as GPC 3 is made up of Sitka spruce planted with a second species. In fact almost 80% of total planting in 2017 was GPC 3.
A typical productive plantation of Sitka spruce will result in removals of 10 tonnes of CO2e per annum per hectare on average over a full rotation. In some individual years this figure may fluctuate. It is therefore important to look at changes in carbon across the whole forest estate, which was a sink of -3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015.