The proportion of forest cover on the Earth’s surface has decreased dramatically in recent history but has shown signs of stabilising at 30.6 percent coverage. This, for the most part is less than ideal, but positive in that it seems to be stabilising thanks to afforestation and the protection of habitats. However sustainable forest management can quickly come under threat against factors such as wildfires (as a result soaring temperatures or as part of agricultural practice) or weak political governance.
This month the World’s eyes were on Brazil and the tragic fires that are ravaging through Amazonia. News of the blaze spread across social media for days until broadcasters and governments finally spoke out about the disaster. The outcry materialised with protests taking place globally and hashtags rippling through media channels. Like many disasters, the stories grip us momentarily, but for many who are not directly effected by it, the desperate imagery soon fades into the background.
The proportion of media attention towards the burning of the Amazon Rainforest was disproportionate to the blazes which are currently destroying wildlife in other, less famous, forests around the World. According to data from Weather Source, Bloomberg, at the same time of the 2,127 fires in Brazil there were 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Primarily forests don’t act as lungs feeding the bulk of our atmosphere’s oxygen. Rather they host rich habitats for most of the biodiversity on our planet and in terms of climate change mitigation they pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and aid the cooling of the Earth. I myself fell victim to the repeated claim that the Amazon Rainforest produces 20 percent of the World’s oxygen, and with that in mind I had many a sleepless night and a sense of claustrophobia. I later read in National Geographic that the Amazon Rainforest contributes around 20 percent of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis on land and that this fact most likely led to the myth we are seeing broadcasted today. The misleading claim however, along with the genuine outcry from Indigenous Tribes and emotive images of wild animals fleeing the blaze, did kickstart a global condemnation of the in-action of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to protect the rainforest and it’s inhabitants.
Forests around the globe differ immensely, each contributing as supporting systems to climate, pollination, species diversity, water and soil quality. In light of trending reports on unsustainable forestry and threats to global tree cover we will publish a two-part article discussing the extent and nature of both monoculture forestry and diverse native woodland forestry. Benefits and impacts to both biodiversity and the environment from the two types of forestry will be analysed.
In the mean time, to end on a proactive note there is no better way to appreciate our native forests in Ireland (or wherever you are located) than getting outdoors and spending some time in a native woodland.
In many upland areas of Wicklow, Waterford, Kerry and west Cork and Donegal you will find a concentration of native woodlands. Despite the counties Carlow, Louth and Dublin being the least wooded, there are many urban parks and recreational areas to enjoy and walk along trails lined with native trees (see the 7 Native Tree Trails in Dublin City Council Parks). Below are a list of our National Parks along with some activities and initiatives to reconnect with nature.
Ireland’s National Parks
- Killarney, County Kerry. c.1,200 ha. hosts the largest native woodland in Ireland. The dramatic landscape is made up of mountains, lakes, woods and waterfalls with attractions such as Muckross House and Gardens and the 15th Century Muckross Abbey. Spot sessile oak, ash, alder, birch and yew trees in the rich native woodland.
- Glenveagh, County Donegal. c.60 ha. is a hauntingly beautiful landscape of rugged mountains, lakes and waterfalls. It’s native wooded areas hosts a mixture of sessile oak and birch with patches of hazel scrub in valleys. Attractions include the 19th Century Glenveagh Castle and gardens.
- Burren, County Clare. c.1,500 ha. is arguably one of the most unique landscapes in Ireland. Although you won’t see a dense canopy of trees across the land, it’s defining feature is limestone pavement, with habitats including species-rich hazel scrub and hazel-ash woodland. Explore a lunar like landscape of calcareous grassland, turloughs, lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs and fen. Attractions include the tranquil Burren Perfumery.
- Wicklow Mountains. c.20,000 ha. with it’s blanket bog, heath and upland grassland dominating this expansive natural area. Conifer plantations are extensive however many areas area are being converted to oak, scots pine and birch woodland. Much of the native trees remain in the Glendalough/Derrybawn area and include sessile oak, holly, rowan, ash and hazel. Attractions include the Monastic City in the Glendalough Valley.