Dáil Éireann - Volume 538 - 14 June, 2001

Written Answers. - Afforestation Programme.

42. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which his Department has directed the national forestry programme toward the planting of tree species [411] which are deemed to be instrumental in meeting the Kyoto guidelines; if his Department has consulted with the Department of the Environment and Local Government in this regard; the outcome of any such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17441/01]

55. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which his Department has determined a species planting policy with a view to maximising the return from forestry and ensuring that species most beneficial to achieving the Kyoto guidelines are planted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17608/01]

56. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the top five tree species in order likely to be most beneficial in combating the expansion of greenhouse gases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17609/01]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 55 and 56 together.

The Government's forestry policy, as set out in Growing for the Future – A Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland, is to increase Ireland's forest cover from its present level of 9% of land area to 17% by 2030. This strategy is to be achieved by planting approximately 20,000 hectares of forestry per annum. The planting programme is supported by a generous grants and premium package co-financed by the European Union. This significant increase in forestry will assist in countering the increase in greenhouse gases. Forestry is the only economic activity that can contribute to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Conifers are particularly well suited in this regard. These species play a significant role as a carbon sequestrator. It is estimated that on average one hectare of Sitka spruce absorbs 3.3 tonnes of carbon per year while broadleaves absorb 1.3 tonnes. Over its rotation one hectare of conifers will remove approximately 100 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, per hectare making them exceptionally efficient in combating the greenhouse gas effect.

The national climate change strategy identifies the key role to be played by forestry in carbon sequestration. There have been ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of the Environment and Local Government in the context of the national climate change strategy.

COFORD, the Council for forest research and Development, is carrying out extensive work in the area of carbon sequestration with a view to maximising the sequestration potential of Irish forests. It is currently negotiating a research and development contract that will refine current estimates of carbon stocks in Irish forests. The results of this research will inform future forest service [412] policy. COFORD has also previously published an information leaflet on carbon sequestration entitled, The Carbon Connection.

With regard to the suitability of particular species, soil and site as well as species determine the rate of forest growth and consequently the potential for carbon storage. The five most suitable species are grand fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, Sitka spruce and Douglas fir.

Of these Sitka spruce and Douglas fir are the most commonly planted in Ireland.