A new paradigm for Irish peatland afforestation

Edward P. Farrell and Florence Renou-Wilson

After Wise Use – The Future of Peatlands, Proceedings of the 13th International Peat Congress: Peatland Forestry

afforestation, blanket-bogs, cutaway-peatlands, economic-appraisal, peatland-forestry, productivity

Farrell et al. 2008: A new paradigm for Irish peatland afforestation


Peatland afforestation in Ireland has long been focused on the naturally treeless blanket peatlands of the west. Through accumulated experience and empirical research, techniques were developed for the successful estab- lishment of significant areas of spruce and pine plantations. The somewhat ill-defined objectives of this venture included an element of utilising the ‘wasteland’, providing employment in economically depressed regions and achieving a satisfactory level of productivity, without any rigorous approach to assessing economic viability. However, although the productivity achieved was much higher than originally predicted, by the 1990s, the demand for a satisfactory financial return, coupled with increased societal expectations of higher environmen- tal and aesthetic qualities, began to militate against further expansion of blanket peatland afforestation. Si- multaneously, attention turned to the new peatland resource created by industrial peat harvesting. The new paradigm of peatland afforestation has as its objective the utilisation of cutover peatlands in a financially profitable manner. It requires a new suite of establishment techniques and presents new challenges for managers. The results of eight years of research on all aspects of cutaway peatland afforestation now make it possible for the conversion of extensive areas to forestry. However, it is clear that techniques developed will not become operational unless economic viability can be clearly demonstrated.