Ireland Ireland Ireland Ireland

Forestry and Peatlands Ireland

Vulnerabilities Ireland - Forestry

Forests cover 9% of the land area of Ireland and is one of the least forested countries in the EU. Within the next quarter of a century, it is envisaged that forest cover will double in Ireland. Up to 30% of the annual harvest in Ireland can comprise wind thrown material and any future change in storminess is, therefore, important for forestry economics (1).

Both tree growth and threat of pests and pathogens will increase. The timber quality will be impacted due to rapid growth (2).

Vulnerabilities Ireland - Peatlands

Peatlands cover a large area of the land surface of Ireland (20%), occurring as raised bogs, blanket bogs or fens. They contain more than 75% of the national soil organic carbon (32).

Irish peatlands have been afforested, cut over by domestic cutting, cut away by industrial peat extraction, eroded by overgrazing and agricultural reclamation, damaged by infrastructural developments and invaded by non-native species. To add to this destructive scene, climate change is likely to threaten further the survival of these ecosystems (33). In 1979, around 56% of the original area of Irish bogs was deemed still ‘unmodified’ by man. However, all Irish peatlands to date have been affected by peat cutting, grazing or fire to one extent or another. In a recent assessment (34), it was estimated that only 10% of the original raised bog and 28% of the original blanket peatland resource are now in a good enough condition to be considered as representative peatland habitats, suitable for conservation site designation, i.e. of conservation value (31).

Irish peatlands are a huge carbon store, containing more than 75% of the national SOC. A constant high water table that restricts aerobic decay is a prerequisite for long-term storage of carbon in peatlands and preserving the information stored in the peat (archaeological and palaeo-environmental archives). Natural or undamaged peatlands help to regulate the global climate by actively removing carbon from the atmosphere but this important function is reversed (i.e. there is a net release of carbon) when the peatland is damaged and CO2 and CH4 are released (31,41).

Restoration may be an effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emission and maintain the carbon storage of peatlands. While natural peatlands are able to buffer the impact of external perturbations such as small changes in climate, they are unlikely to survive as carbon sinks, with large magnitudes of changes in precipitation and temperature (31).

Blanket bogs

Globally, blanket bogs are rare, accounting for ~3% of the total peatland area, and their distribution is restricted to temperate maritime regions typified by cool summers, mild winters and year-round rainfall (36). In Europe, Atlantic blanket bogs are common only in Scotland and Ireland, and constitute a significant global component of this ecosystem (37). Ireland has 50% of the remaining blanket bogs of conservation importance within the Atlantic Biogeographic Region of Europe (38). Between 13.8 and 17% of Irish land area is peatland. Only ~28% of blanket bogs in the Republic of Ireland remain in a relatively intact condition (38) due to peat extraction, drainage and forest plantation.

Blanket peat tends to form under the warmest and wettest conditions (39), where precipitation is around 3 times greater than potential evaporation and there are no sustained dry periods.

According to climate change projections based on one global climate model (GCM) and the A1B emissions scenario, annual temperature in Ireland will rise by 1.3 to 1.8°C, and precipitation will decrease by 5 to 10% in summer and increase by 5 to 10% in autumn and winter by 2021−2050 relative to 1961−1990 (40). These changes will affect the distribution of active blanket bog in Ireland, most notably in lower-lying areas in the south and west of the country. The area that is suitable for active blanket bog development will reduce. This could have major implications for the lowland blanket bog distribution along the western Atlantic seaboard where the projected losses are greatest (35).

Vulnerabilities - Overview

The increased vulnerability of forests (and people) with respect to climate change refers to several impacts (23,29):

  • Forest cover: conversion of forests to non-woody energy plantations; accelerated deforestation and forest degradation; increased use of wood for domestic energy.
  • Biodiversity: alteration of plant and animal distributions; loss of biodiversity; habitat invasions by non-native species; alteration of pollination systems; changes in plant dispersal and regeneration.
  • Productivity: changes in forest growth and ecosystem biomass; changes in species/site relations; changes in ecosystem nitrogen dynamics.
  • Health: increased mortality due to climate stresses; decreased health and vitality of forest ecosystems due to the cumulative impacts of multiple stressors; deteriorating health of forest-dependent peoples.
  • Soils and water: changes in the seasonality and intensity of precipitation, altering the flow regimes of streams; changes in the salinity of coastal forest ecosystems; increased probability of severe droughts; increased terrain instability and soil erosion due to increased precipitation and melting of permafrost; more/earlier snow melt resulting in changes in the timing of peak flow and volume in streams. The capacity of the forest ecosystem to purify water is an important service, obviating the cost of expensive filtration plants.
  • Carbon cycles: alteration of forest sinks and increased CO2 emissions from forested ecosystems due to changes in forest growth and productivity.
  • Tangible benefits of forests for people: changes in tree cover; changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in availability of specific forest products (timber, non-timber wood products and fuel wood, wild foods, medicines, and other non-wood forest products).
  • Intangible services provided by forests: changes in the incidence of conflicts between humans and wildlife; changes in the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples (also a tangible benefit); changes in socio-economic resilience; changes in the cultural, religious and spiritual values associated with particular forests.


Increasing CO2 concentration can affect tree growth through increased photosynthetic rates and through improved water-use efficiency. There will be complex interactions, however: forest growth rates may well be increased in some cases by rising levels of atmospheric CO2, but rising temperatures, higher evaporation rates and lower rainfall may lower growth rates in other cases (14).

Non-timber products

Increasingly there are concerns about the productivity of non-timber products such as medicines and foods. Relatively little information is available in the scientific literature about the sustainable management of such products, and even less is known about their vulnerability to climate change (23).

Vulnerabilities – Temperate forests in Europe

Present situation

In parts of Europe with temperate forests, annual mean temperatures are below 17°C but above 6°C, and annual precipitation is at least 500 mm and there is a markedly cool winter period (3). Temperate forests are dominated by broad-leaf species with smaller amounts of evergreen broad-leaf and needle-leaf species (4). Common species include the oaks, eucalypts, acacias, beeches, pines, and birches.

Many of the major factors that influence these forests are due to human activities, including land-use and landscape fragmentation, pollution, soil nutrients and chemistry, fire suppression, alteration to herbivore populations, species loss, alien invasive species, and now climate change (5).

Forest productivity has been increasing in western Europe (6). This is thought to be from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere (7), anthropogenic nitrogen deposition (8), warming temperatures (9), and associated longer growing seasons (10).


Most models predict continuing trends of modestly increasing forest productivity in Western Europe over this century (11). Projections for the time near the end of the next century generally suggest decreasing growth and a reduction in primary productivity enhancement as temperatures warm, CO2 saturation is reached for photosynthetic enhancement, and reduced summer precipitation all interact to decrease temperate zone primary productivity (12). The projected increased occurrence of pests, particularly in drought-stressed regions, also contributes to decreased long-term primary productivity in some regions of temperate forests  (13).

Sensitivity to increasing air pollution loads, particularly nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone, will impact large areas of the northern temperate forest over the next century. In the temperate domain, air pollution is expected to interact with climate change; while the fertilization effects from nitrogen deposition are still highly uncertain, pollutants such as ozone are known to diminish primary productivity (14).


The ranges of northern temperate forests are predicted to extend into the boreal forest range in the north and upward on mountains (15). The distribution of temperate broadleaved tree species is typically limited by low winter temperatures (16). Since the latter are projected to rise more rapidly than summer temperatures in Europe and North America, temperate broad-leaved tree species may profit and invade currently boreal areas more rapidly than other temperate species.

Carbon sinks/sources

Temperate forest regions in the highly productive forests of western Europe (17) are known to be robust carbon sinks, although increased temperature may reduce this effect through loss of carbon from soils (18). Weaker carbon sinks or even carbon losses are seen for temperate forests in areas prone to periodic drought, such as southern Europe (19).

Models suggest that the greatest climate change threat to temperate forest ecosystems is reduced summer precipitation, leading to increased frequency and severity of drought (20). This will probably be most prominent in temperate forest regions that have already been characterized as prone to drought stress, such as southern Europe. Drought-stricken forests are also more susceptible to opportunistic pests and fire (21). Together, these related effects can potentially change large areas of temperate forest ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources.


Globally, based on both satellite and ground-based data, climatic changes seemed to have a generally positive impact on forest productivity since the middle of the 20th century, when water was not limiting (30).

Timber production in Europe

Climate change will probably increase timber production and reduce prices for wood products in Europe. For 2000–2050 a change of timber production in Europe is expected of -4 to +5%. For 2050–2100 an increase is expected of +2 to +13% (22).

Adaptation strategies - Ireland

Essential steps to achieve sustainable management of peatlands in Ireland are, amongst others (31):

  • Peat oxidation should be stopped in all protected peatlands as well as in degraded peatlands where possible as protected peatlands are only a minor part of the total area of peatlands. This requires a programme of restoration which should follow an adaptive management approach, i.e. assessing individual sites and developing individual management plans to maximise the natural functions of each as each peatland is different.
  • Active and remedial management options, such as avoiding drainage (conserving) and re-wetting (full restoration or paludiculture) may be effective ways to maintain the carbon storage of peatlands and to recreate conditions whereby the peatland may actively sequester carbon in the future.
  • Invasive species should be actively removed from protected sites and appropriate long-term management should be set out for those sites in relation to updated climate change scenarios.
  • An appropriate form of rehabilitation or restoration should be a licensing condition for any exploitive use of peatlands.
  • The establishment of a network of protected areas representing the geographical distribution of peatland types should be a priority in order to off-set climate change threats.
  • The first option for after-use of cutaway peatlands should be to promote, where possible, the return to a natural functioning peatland ecosystem. The favoured management option should therefore involve re-wetting or the creation of a wetland.
  • New production techniques such as paludiculture (growing biomass in a wet environment) should be developed and promoted to generate production benefits from cutaway and cutover peatlands without diminishing their environmental functions. Paludiculture is probably the after-use option that can have the most benefit from a climate mitigation point of view: avoiding carbon emissions from the degraded peatland, from the displaced fossil fuels and also from its transports.
  • Consideration for the protection and conservation of peatland biodiversity should be integrated into other government policies, such as climate change policy, renewable energy policy, strategy for invasive species and the Water Framework Directive.

Adaptation strategies - Forest management measures in general

Near-nature forest management and a move away from monocultures toward mixed forest types, in terms of both species and age classes, are advocated. In addition, natural or imitated natural regeneration is indicated as a method of maintaining genetic diversity, and subsequently reducing vulnerability. For management against extreme disturbances, improvements in fire detection and suppression techniques are recommended, as well as methods for combating pests and diseases. It is reported that through stricter quarantine and sanitary management, the impact of insects and diseases can be minimized. The establishment of migration corridors between forest reserves may aid in the autonomous colonization and migration of species in response to climate change (27).

Adaptive management

The terms adaptation and adaptive management are often incorrectly used interchangeably. The former involves making adjustments in response to or in anticipation of climate change whereas the latter describes a management system that may be considered, in itself, to be an adaptation tactic (24). Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes (25). It involves recognizing uncertainty and establishing methodologies to test hypotheses concerning those uncertainties; it uses management as a tool not only to change the system but to learn about the system (26).

Both the climate and forest ecosystems are constantly changing, and managers will need to adapt their strategies as the climate evolves over the long term. An option that might be appropriate today given expected changes over the next 20 years may no longer be appropriate in 20 years’ time. This will require a continuous programme of actions, monitoring and evaluation – the adaptive management approach described above (23).

There is a widespread assumption that the forest currently at a site is adapted to the current conditions, but this ignores the extent to which the climate has changed over the past 200–300 years, and the lag effects that occur in forests. As a result, replacement of a forest by one of the same composition may no longer be a suitable strategy (23).

Adaptation to climate change has started to be incorporated into all levels of governance, from forest management to international forest policy. Often these policies are not adopted solely in response to climate, and may occur in the absence of knowledge about longer-term climate change. They often serve more than one purpose, including food and fuel provision, shelter and minimizing erosion, as well as adapting to changing climatic conditions (27).

Socio-economic and political conditions have significant influences on vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Climate change projections are perceived by many forest managers as too uncertain to support long-term and potentially costly decisions that may be difficult to reverse. Similarly, uncertainty over future policy developments may also constrain action. Finance is a further barrier to implementing adaptation actions in the forest sector (28).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Ireland.

  1. Environmental Protection Agency (2003)
  2. Department of theEnvironment, Heritage and Local Government (2010)
  3. Walter (1979), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  4. Melillo et al. (1993), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  5. Reich and Frelich (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  6. Carrer and Urbinati (2006), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  7. Field et al. (2007b), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  8. Hyvönen et al. (2007); Magnani et al. (2007), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  9. Marshall et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  10. Chmielewski and Rötzer (2001); Parmesan (2006), both in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  11. Alcamo et al. (2007); Field et al. (2007b); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  12. Lucht et al. (2006); Scholze et al. (2006); Alo and Wang (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  13. Williams et al. (2000); Williams and Liebhold (2002); Logan and Powell (2001); Tran et al. (2007); Friedenberg et al. (2008), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  14. Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  15. Iverson and Prasad (2001); Ohlemüller et al. (2006); Fischlin et al. (2007); Golubyatnikov and Denisenko (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  16. Perry et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  17. Liski et al. (2002), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  18. Piao et al. (2008), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  19. Morales et al. (2007), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  20. Christensen et al. (2007); Fischlin et al. (2007); Meehl et al. (2007); Schneider et al. (2007), all in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  21. Hanson and Weltzin (2000), in: Fischlin (ed.) (2009)
  22. Karjalainen et al. (2003); Nabuurs et al. (2002); Perez-Garcia et al. (2002); Sohngen et al. (2001), in: Osman-Elasha and Parrotta (2009)
  23. Innes (ed.) (2009)
  24. Ogden and Innes (2007), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  25. BCMOF (2006a), in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  26. Holling (1978); Lee (1993, 2001), all in: Innes (ed.) (2009)
  27. Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  28. Keskitalo (2008), in: Roberts (ed.) (2009)
  29. Kirilenko and Sedjo (2007)
  30. Boisvenue et al. (2006)
  31. Environmental Protection Agency (2011)
  32. Connolly and Holden (2009), in: Environmental Protection Agency (2011)
  33. Jones et al. (2006), in: Environmental Protection Agency (2011)
  34. Malone and O'Connell (2009), in: Environmental Protection Agency (2011)
  35. Coll et al. (2014)
  36. Kurbatova et al. (2009), in: Coll et al. (2014)
  37. Sheehy Skeffington and O’Connell (1998), in: Coll et al. (2014)
  38. Malone and O’Connell (2009), in: Coll et al. (2014)
  39. Wieder and Vitt (2006), in: Coll et al. (2014)
  40. McGrath and Lynch (2008), in: Coll et al. (2014)
  41. Koehler et al. (2011), in: Coll et al. (2014)