Reclamation: Restoring Ecological Health to the Emerald Isle


Ireland’s west coast is famous for its wave-lashed beaches and bare rocky mountains, where trees grow in the scrub and valleys, battered by strong winds blowing in from the North Atlantic.

The beach, with its cool, clean breeze and ever-changing sky, gives off a feeling of unspoiled and pristine nature. In the year In 2014, the Irish government designated a 1,550-mile tourist route along the coast as the “Wild Atlantic Way.”

Yet, generations of painters, poets, and visitors have written about the majesty of nature and the Irish countryside, while ecologists see a man-made wilderness of grasses, heathers, and ferns. It comes out from the root.

With climate change threatening further ecological disruption, Ireland’s “regeneration” movement is calling for the restoration of forests that once covered these lands, sequestering atmospheric carbon and preserving and extending Ireland’s dwindling remnants. Biodiversity.

RepeatingThe practice of restoring degraded landscapes is well established in Britain Several projects are underway.. For Ireland this means the regeneration of temperate forests of oak, birch, hazel and yew. At one time it covered 80 percent of the land But now — thanks to centuries of logging, overgrazing and intensive farming — it’s down to just 1 percent.

For some, the comeback began as a matter of personal choice.

In the year In 2009, sculptor Eoghan Daltún sold his home in Dublin to buy 33 acres of rolling oaks and rolling hills on the Beara Peninsula in the far southwest of County Cork. Where local farmers once aged a few cattle and sheep, he built a fence to protect the goats and sika deer, non-native, invasive species that grow from the roots and plant saplings up to the roots, stripping the bark of old trees and killing them.

One day in late spring, the wind drove rain from the foaming ocean, proudly displaying the results. Wood sorrel, dog violet and peony were already in flower under the thick canopy of twisted mature oak and birch branches. mosses, ferns and epiphytic plants. New twigs of oak, hawthorn, and ash were isolated among the grass and dried ferns.

“The sheep and deer eat those young saplings before they start on the grass, so when the old trees die, there are no new ones to replace them,” said Mr. Daltoun, who wrote about the experiment. Ireland’s Atlantic Rainforest” note. But the native forest is coming back here, all by itself. I don’t have to plant anything.

Ireland has committed to increasing its forested area to 18% by 2050, up from 11% now. However, this would still be below the EU average of 38%, and much of Ireland currently consists of commercial spruce and fir plantations that account for more than 90% of existing forest land.

These non-native conifers, grown for harvest within 30 to 40 years, are treated with chemicals that contaminate groundwater and rivers. Ecologists say it grows on a forest floor covered with dry needles and a bit of desert ground for insects and native wildlife. And most of the stored carbon is released again when it is collected.

Wildlife Ireland’s campaigns officer Padraic Fogarty said it would be better for biodiversity and carbon poisoning to pay farmers and landowners to grow native trees and not harvest them. He mentioned Example of Costa RicaHe reversed Central America’s deforestation trend by paying farmers to protect and extend the rainforest.

Hometree resident Ray O’Foglu said farmers are paid to plow or graze what is left of inaccessible hillsides or rough corners of fields – often with just a few trees and bushes. . Biologically rich, these micro-forests, if left to their own devices, will quickly restore neighboring areas, Mr Ó Foglu believes. He himself recently bought a nine-acre “Scrubland” – house Cecil Ox (Ireland’s national tree), hazel, wood sorrel, bluebells and anemones.

“I still pinch myself for being myself,” he said. “The river has a river to cross, and I don’t think it’s mine, for the price of a second-hand car these days.”

Pro-Irish fans look enviously at the Scottish Highlands, ecologically very similar to the west of Ireland, but where the concentration of ownership in the hands of a few hundred nobles and gentry allows regeneration on a grand scale.

As ecologically minded forms Danish billionaire Anders Holch PovlsenWith 220,000 acres, Scotland’s biggest private landowner could clear deer and cattle from tens of thousands of hectares of land, allowing native growth to be restored quickly. Extirpated native species, particularly lynx and European beaver, have also been introduced into Scotland to restore ecological balance.

In Ireland, where the average farm size is 83 hectares, such large-scale redevelopment seems unlikely. The biggest difference, by far, lies in the flat, very fertile and highly agricultural setting of County Meath on the east side of the island, and the persona of New York-born filmmaker, vegan and immortal Randall Plunkett. Metal fan.

Since Mr Plunkett – known to some as the 21st Baron of Dunsany – inherited his 1,700ha ancestral estate in 2011, he has cleared it of cattle and left a third of it back to unmanaged bushland to fill the wild herds. Native red deer.

“Biodiversity is expanding dramatically,” said Mr Plunkett, 30, as he stood in the dense forest, swarming bees and other busy insects. “At least one species has returned every year since we started. Pine martens. Red kites. Corn cranes. Peregrine falcons. Kestrels. Stoats. Woodpeckers. Otters. For the first time in my life, we think there are salmon in the river again.”

One of his forefathers, Sir Horace Plunkett, pioneered modern industrial farming in Ireland at the turn of the last century, encouraging small farmers to form cooperatives and mechanize their work and use fertilizers and chemicals. Today, Randal Plunkett says, not everyone in this rich farming area is happy with his decision to abandon intensive agriculture or ban hunting on the property.

“It’s safe to say I’m not popular with the hunting crowd. “I have received death threats.”

Rewilding has its opponents. Ireland’s influential agribusiness lobbies are allowed to return to the “mafia” where farmland is traditionally derided by economic and cultural skepticism. They say people always need food. In many marginal areas in the highlands and west, farmers argue that recent regulations have reduced the number of sheep they can graze per hectare, and that their complete removal would harm existing biodiversity.

Vincent Doddy, president of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association, said: “If you leave an area untended and unmanaged, you leave an area at risk of burning. “I think cattle and sheep are the most cost-effective way to manage the land.”

Even on poor soil and small farms, animal husbandry is sustainable with government assistance and secondary employment, the title of the farmer is still more than monetary value.

“You’ll have some of those who say, ‘Sheep is my family tradition and who I am, and it’s what I want to do,'” said Mr. Daltun, who tends cattle to his 33 children. Acres. But others see the benefit of being paid to look after the land and allow it to redevelop and have time to focus more on their other work or business.


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