“Forests are the earth’s lungs,
Trees are the trachea,
Branches are the bronchi.”
Re-Greening Ireland: The Science
We grew up with the beautiful notion of “Green Ireland”. Unfortunately this idea of our green island is now a lie.
We are currently the least forested country in Europe and we are actually among Europe’s largest carbon emitters per capita.
It suprises many people to learn that Ireland’s endless green fields and evergreen tree plantations have actually had a devastating impact on our biodiversity from bugs, to birds to long lost wildlife such as wildcats and wolves.
The small patch of forestry we have is 85% sitka spruce. This is not a rich ecosystem, this is a timber factory, rich in revenues, barren in biodiversity.
The best thing we can do to protect biodiversity and revitalise wildlife is to restore their natural habitat. According to the World Wildlife Fund habitat loss in the form of deforestation is the number one cause of species extinction worldwide.
Planting native trees is the best way we can go about re-greening Ireland and re-vitalising our wildlife.
Reversing Climate Change
Research has shown that planting trees is our most impactful activity for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and stabilising our weather systems.
Not all tree planting is good tree planting, however. A report for the Dept of Agriculture has found that Ireland’s Sitka spruce plantations are actually net carbon emitters.
So the message is clear. If you want to become carbon neutral the best thing you can do is plant a diverse mix of native Irish trees in a place they once flourished.
The next big question you are probably asking yourself is “if I want to become carbon neutral, how many trees per year do I need to plant?
Let’s look at both sides of the equation to get a science-based estimate.
How much carbon dioxide does the average Irish person emit per year?
We are the third highest emitters per capita in Europe averaging just over 13 tonnes per person.
How much carbon dioxide does a tree sequester?
Science has yet to arrive at a singular answer to this question. However, there is one answer that makes the most sense to us.
Many experts settle on 5 tonnes as the average amount of CO2 sequestered by a mature tree over its lifetime. We think this is a good estimate to work with.
Based on the formula for converting tree mass into CO2 sequestered this puts the average tree mass at 3.6 tonnes.
A separate study on calculating the weight of hardwood trees, put 3.55 tonnes as the median weight of a mature hardwood tree.
So the science says the median tree weight is 3.55 tonnes, which would hold 5 tonnes of sequestered CO2.
So if 3 of the trees you plant reach a grand old age they will have sequestered 15 tonnes in their lifetime, which is a bit more than an Irish persons annual emmissions, meaning you are carbon neutral for 1 year. If 4 or more reach maturity you are comfortably carbon negative for one year.
25% of trees planted thriving through to maturity is a conservative estimate. We’d be optimistic it will be this figure or better.
So how many trees do you need to plant per year to be carbon neutral or better?
Based on the science above, a dozen trees per year will see you sorted.
Let’s get started!
The Miyawaki Method
Our first Reforestation project Wolfgang Woods #1, is Ireland’s first Miyawaki Forest.
The Miyawaki Method of Forestry, popularised by a 2014 TED talk promises to grow mature native forests 10 times faster, sequestering more carbon CO2 and 100 times more biodiverse than conventional plantations. The core pillars of the method are density and diversity. Density creates undersoil co-operation and above soil competition. By planting native trees very close together the underground root network, “the wood wide web” establishes quickly. This undersoil root network provides many benefits to the trees including the ability to pass nutrients and water to the trees that need them most. Above ground, the trees stretch up faster as they are competing with each other for light in unusually close quarters. The diverse selection of native trees means the soil is enriched by a “diverse diet” enhancing the health of the root network and spurring the growth of the trees.
European Research has found the method is so effective it’s enabled reforestation efforts succeed in areas trees just wouldn’t take previously and even in those unfavourable conditions trees show 3-5 times more growth than usual after 11 years.
We’ve adapted the Mikawaki Method for our Reforestation efforts. The Wolfgang adaptation is more organic and less resource-heavy.
1 year after planting, trees expected to grow up to 3 feet per year had already shown over 6 feet growth in Wolfgang Woods #1!