Trees could be a win:win scenario

Well known journalist Richard Halleron from Farming Life is pictured before the Northern Bank Pre-Winter Fair dinner in Belfast this week with Hilary Dawson and John Henning from Northern Bank  .PICTURE STEVEN MCAULEY/KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA

Well known journalist Richard Halleron from Farming Life is pictured before the Northern Bank Pre-Winter Fair dinner in Belfast this week with Hilary Dawson and John Henning from Northern Bank .PICTURE STEVEN MCAULEY/KEVIN MCAULEY PHOTOGRAPHY MULTIMEDIA

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The past week has seen the international aviation industry commit to an agreement which will see it step up to the mark from a global warming perspective.

But rather than directly reduce its greenhouse gas emission levels, the plan is to invest in forestry and let the trees do that job for them. It all makes perfect sense to me.

Mid-autumn marks the traditional start of the tree planting season in Northern Ireland. Over the coming years, there’s every likelihood that international businesses will become increasingly interested in the environmental benefits that trees can offer. The main vehicle that could be used to transform this potential into reality is ‘Carbon Trading’. And it is already working at an EU level.

The principle is a simple one: international businesses who wish to improve their environmental credentials will purchase carbon credits from other companies involved in carbon sequestration activities. The end result should be a reduction in the levels of atmospheric CO2. Pundits are already claiming that Carbon Trading could well become a business worth £billions over the next 20 years or so.

All of this will come as good news to those involved in forestry as trees can be regarded as a Carbon sump with the potential to remove significant tonnages of CO2 from the atmosphere for well over 100 years.

It is worthy of note that an investment in forestry allows farmers to receive all of the available woodland grants and plus full Single Payment entitlements across that part of their farm which is planted out.

On this basis alone one would have thought that private sector forestry development should be a growth area within the local economy. However, the reality is that it is not. In fact, current tree planting levels are hardly on a par with those recorded ten years ago.

There are significant areas of land in Northern Ireland that could be put to best economic use on the back of creative woodland development initiatives. Northern Ireland enjoys a uniquely advantageous climate in which to grow trees. And the economics of woodland are not just centred on the final value of the trees when they are eventually felled.

Tree planting also creates new wildlife habitats, which helps to enrich the environment and the conservation value of the landscape. This, in turn, can help to create new visitor attractions with an emphasis on education and recreation.

Making this happen will require a little bit of imagination and lateral thinking on the part of our local politicians. But it’s hard not to conclude that trees could be made a win:win scenario for both farmers and the wider environment, if the private forestry sector was given the proper encouragement.