Call for planting of native trees

This week is National Tree Week and the environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment are calling for a change in Irish Forestry policy to reflect our commitment to Biodiversity and the need to take account of the EU Habitats Directive for conservation of native flora and fauna. 

Around the country groups and organisations are planting native trees this week whilst our national afforestation programme does not even mention native species.  Native trees are especially important for biodiversity because they have developed over hundreds of years in a symbiotic relationship with other plants, insects, birds and animals.  Native woodlands are habitat to thousands of other species whereas coniferous plantations only host a handful.
Coillte are continuing to plant and replant non-native Sitka Spruce on the pretext that, on most poor or marginal land, it is 'commercially viable' and native trees are not.  This is a fallacy - they only think in terms of monoculture plantations.  This kind of thinking is reflected in the new Forest Environment Protection Scheme (FEPS) which, although it appears to encourage biodiversity, still gives the option of 80% Sitka Spruce with 5% non-native Larch leaving just 15% for biodiversity which usually means a few birch and alder around the edges - a poor contribution indeed, suggesting to me that FEPS is just an election stunt aimed at votes from farmers.
The reason for current policy is partly because the government are pressured by the timber product manufacturers who only want fast-growing softwoods for wood-pulp and chip-board, etc.  No account is taken of the benefits of 'continuous-cover' native woodland which is a haven for wildlife, a stimulating amenity for locals and visitors, a scenic part of the landscape, an important educational resource and a source of valuable hardwood timber for a range of uses providing work for traditional craftspeople.  Once a native woodland is established, it provides on-going economic benefit far in excess of that of coniferous plantations which need fertilisers and pesticides and, excluding government grants, only yield an income every 25 to 30 years when they are clear-felled causing environmental damage due to release of phosphates from the soil.
In County Clare an excellent publication has just been launched by wildlife film-maker Eamon de Butlear - 'Buds of the Banner - A Guide to the Native Trees and Shrubs of County Clare' by Dr Janice Fuller, which encourages planting of native species in gardens, parks, farms and business or industrial areas.  Organisations such as CELT (Centre for Environmental Living and Training) and Irish Seedsavers Association are developing native woodland sites and tree nurseries and are running training workshops covering all aspects of native trees and how to manage them.  This is how things are changing at grass-roots level.  If Irish taxpayers are to avoid more heavy fines from Europe, then national forestry policy has to change to include a high percentage of native woodland establishment.  Further information on all the above can be found on CELT website