An attempt to transform the Irish landscape with nature’s own carbon captors will see 22 million trees planted every year for the next 20 years.
The ambitious plan is the equivalent of planting more than 6,000 Croke Park pitches every year until 2040.
If successful, the area of land under trees could increase by 20 per cent to almost one-million hectares, although that would still leave Ireland at the bottom in Europe for forest cover, ahead only of barren Malta.
Most of the planting will be done by the State, farmers and other large landowners by spurring renewed interest in existing grant schemes, but anyone with a quarter acre can apply and there are schemes to assist community groups.
Increasing tree cover is a pledge in the Government’s Climate Action Plan. Trees are a vital tool in climate action as they absorb greenhouse gas and ease some of the effects of freak weather. Roots knit the soil together to stop it being washed away by intense rainfall and leaves provide shade for livestock and wildlife in searing heat.
But environmentalists question the plan. Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust said the €94m a year spent on forestry grants might be better spent paying landowners not to plant anything at all.
“People are not good at planting trees and trees do not like being planted. They prefer to plant themselves,” he said.