The University of Maryland with the help of Google Earth has created a new high-resolution global map of forest loss and gain. It charts the story of the world’s tree canopies from 2000 to 2012, using 650,000 satellite images. In that time, the Earth lost a combined “forest” the size of Mongolia, enough trees to cover the UK six times.
Image 1: Forest loss and gain in Ireland. (Green areas are forested; red suffered forest loss; blue showed forest gain; pink experienced both loss and gain).
From an Irish perspective however the picture is looking positive. The map above shows that there has been a net gain in forest cover in many parts of the country, particularly the west.
Ireland has gone from an initial forest cover of around 80% to less than 1% at one point. Initially, the Irish State started reforesting mainly to curb Ireland’s timber dependency. Most of these state forests were established on mountain land and consisted mainly of exposure-tolerant, fast-growing conifers. Sitka Spruce was the most commonly planted species. It is native to the North West Pacific and as a result it has not evolved alongside our native woodland species. These plantations offer little in terms of biodiversity compared to our native broad-leaf woodlands.
Ireland is one of the most sparsely forested countries in the entire EU (12% compared to an EU average of 37%). Government policy is to bring the national forest cover to 17% by 2030.
There has been a significant increase in broad-leaf planting since 1996 reflecting the revised support structure for such plantings.
Let’s hope this positive trend continues.
To have a look at the global picture: http://earthenginepartners.appspot.com/science-2013-global-forest
Courtesy of The Irish Wildlife Trust, a fantastic organisation looking into biodiversity in Ireland