Sense is needed on tree debate
Plant all types but exercise care
Published 16/02/2010 | 05:00
During the past decade we have spent millions on planting native species of trees with the aim of establishing new areas of native woodland, often surrounding them with costly deer fencing. We have also spent millions, in general, in supporting the planting of broadleaf species. Unfortunately, such planting often took place on sites where broadleaves don't thrive. Not only did Government help with the planting of broadleaves but our Forest Service also insisted that they be planted as part of our afforestation programme.
I must quickly state that more than 70pc of my own woodland is stocked with broadleaves and many other landowners have done the same. We have done so principally because we like broadleaved trees and we like the environmental and landscape benefits of mixed woodland -- as opposed to monocultures of any one species. We also have the sites and conditions that suit the establishment of broadleaf woodlands. However, we are fully aware that this is largely a philanthropic gesture that will, hopefully, ultimately benefit our successors, but it will undoubtedly create a financial burden in our own lifetimes.
It is time to question the perceived benefits of planting only our so-called native species and whether the money could have been spent in better ways. I use the words "so called" because the argument still rages about what really is native or not. We are continually making fresh discoveries as science and technology provide us with a more accurate picture of our ancient history. Pollen counts can be misleading and scientists are still very unsure regarding what animals and plants should or should not be called native. If a tree thrives in our soil and climate, and regenerates naturally here, then there seems little point in not planting it, especially if it has good commercial potential and creates key habitats for wildlife.
There are endless arguments about whether certain species, such as Scots pine, are in fact native, and undoubtedly much of our so-called native stock of oak, for example, may well have been originally sourced from abroad.
The usual means of defining what is native or not is to decide if it was growing in Ireland before the last ice age and before Ireland became a true island. That was 10,000 years ago and it was pure chance that some species were placed here while others that now prosper in our soil, such as beech, had not arrived at that point.
Does this mean that we must remove all beech, hornbeam, sycamore and other valuable species that now thrive here? Doing so would be total nonsense and would ignore the manner in which the natural world adapts to change.
It is fascinating to see the way in which birds, mammals and insects seize opportunities and find a niche for themselves in an evolving landscape. Man has changed the developed world's landscape beyond recognition. It is our responsibility to ensure that there is room for the natural world in this altered environment.