The environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] will greet the Minister for the Environment with a Sitka spruce log when he arrives to launch the new national Biodiversity Public Awareness Campaign.
The log is being brought to Customs House by six environmentalists wearing green hard hats and reflective vests. FIE claims that there is no requirement to use any native species in the national afforestation programme, 'Growing for the Future'.
'Sitka spruce remains by far the most planted species, and it is not native and not a hardwood. It is a fast growing poor quality timber that is not suitable for the construction industry and is not recommended for solid fuel wood burning stoves and boilers. To be economic it requires large blocks of clearfell that are entirely destructive of the environment and landscape.'
The group also cites the European Environmental Agency [EEA] analysis which showed that 84% of Irish forestry 1990 - 2000 was planted on peatlands.
'Planting on our peatlands irreparably destroys these rare habitats and greatly diminishes our native biodiversity - the opposite of what the Government claims it is doing for national biodiversity'. More than 100,000 hectares of peatlands were destroyed in this way in those 10 years alone, according to the EEA. FIE claims the Government disputes the figures only because it uses an inappropriate definition for peat soils. 'If the Forest Service used the definition of peat soils the farmers must use under the Nitrates Regulations, the figures match', FIE says:
'It has been clearly proved by Irish scientists that planting in many areas has led to acidification, with the death of streams and rivers. While since 2000 the worst of these areas are now no-go for initial afforestation, they are being replanted with the same damaging species. More than 10,000 hectares of Ireland is being replanted every year, and not a single native species or broadleaf tree is required', FIE alleges.
'Only minor schemes like the Native Woodland Scheme and the new Forestry Environmental Protection Scheme require native species. The national afforestation programme requires 10% broadleaves only "if sites permit"- and they do not have to be native.
In fact the current broadleaf requirement of 10% damages Irish biodiversity as planting non-native broadleaves weakens our genetic base. The national target of 30% broadleaves is a potential threat to native biodiversity as trees from non-native sources have not adapted to conditions here in Ireland and will interbreed with our better adapted genetic stock.
'The national afforestation programme has been and continues to be reliant on Sitka spruce which must be clearfelled to be economic. Clearfelling in peaty soils has now been linked to deteriorating water quality through the release of massive amounts of phosphates, much of it applied at the headlands of our most important rivers to try and make the trees grow. Instead of making the trees grow, the phosphates feed the algae in the rivers and the biodiversity crashes.
'The afforestation programme target has just been confirmed under the National Development Plan 2007 - 2013 as 20,000 hectares a year until 2036 - the most massive land use change in Irish history. Yet not one hectare has to be planted with native species under the current regulations.'
The group has called on the Minister to address the situation.