DAERA Minister Edwin Poots MLA has pledged to help tackle climate change by planting 18 million trees over the next 10 years – 10 for every person in Northern Ireland.
The ‘Forests for our Future’ programme is Northern Ireland’s biggest and most ambitious plan to develop our forests and contribute to sustainable economic growth and was announced by the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, in a statement to the Assembly.
Minister Poots said: “Forests are a natural and vital resource, enjoyed by people across the world. Each year in Northern Ireland, our forest parks are visited around five million times and contribute greatly to positive physical and mental health and help people to connect with their environment.
“However, forest cover in Northern Ireland currently sits at 8%, well behind the UK average of 13%. We plant only 200 hectares of woodland per year, instead of the 900 hectares recommended recently by the Committee on Climate Change. That is why I have launched ‘Forests for our Future’ – my Department’s biggest and most ambitious plan to improve and sustain our forests and contribute to economic growth.”
The ‘Forests for our Future’ programme pledges to:
- Plant 18 million trees (9,000 hectares of new woodland) – 10 trees per person in Northern Ireland.
- Improve the resilience of our forests and woodlands
- Increase their contribution to a sustainable, healthy environment;
- Increase their contribution to NI’s sustainable economic growth;
- Enable more people to improve their health, wellbeing and life chances; and
- Contribute to the UK Net Zero by 2050 target.
Highlighting the benefits of the new programme, the Minister said: “More forests and more trees will help to mitigate climate change – when a tree breathes, it inhales carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen. Across its lifetime, typically one tree can absorb enough carbon dioxide to offset emissions from an average car travelling 3,000 miles. There are many more things I intend to consider to mitigate carbon emissions, but tree planting is one of the most simple and low cost options open to us and is a great step in the right direction.
“Furthermore, planting more trees will make a significant contribution to Northern Ireland’s sustainable economic growth – the forestry sector generates about £60 million per annum from timber production activity, sustaining approximately 1,000 rural jobs. A further £60-£80 million is generated in the local economy from forest based recreation and tourism. I want to further enhance that through this programme.”
Regarding land acquisition, the Minister said: “Existing publicly owned land, including local government land, has the greatest potential for woodland creation in the short term. I have written to Ministerial colleagues and Chief Executives of local Councils seeking their support and commitment to make public land available for tree planting. I also plan to establish an Afforestation Forum to develop an action plan for increasing afforestation and I will oversee this work personally.”
Concluding, Minister Poots said: “I will continue to play a lead role in increasing afforestation and creating a sustainable environment. With the leadership, commitment, skills and willingness available to us, we will significantly increase forest cover over the next decade.”