The certified ‘green desert’ in the Emerald Isle

This posting has been provided by ‘Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders’:

Coillte, the Irish State forestry company which has been FSC certified since 2001, owns 1.1 million acres of some of the wildest and most beautiful parts of Ireland, holding and managing the land in the name of the people of Ireland.

That’s the theory anyway.

Coillte was established under the 1988 Forestry Act, and came into being at the beginning of 1989. All forest land under control of the State’s Land Commission was passed to the “semi-state” Coillte Teoranta. This was a step towards the privatisation of 7% of the land mass of the Republic of Ireland. While Coillte continue to purport to be a private company, their only two shareholders are the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Marine and Natural Resources. In fact, Coillte continue to purport to be a private entity even though the European Courts have several times ruled that Coillte is not a private entity.

In reality Coillte’s record, in ‘carefully’ managing the environment of which it is custodian, and ‘wisely’ using the millions of euros that have poured into it’s coffers from the EU since 1989, has been disastrous. Coillte have – in the face of world-wide advice and experience, and evidence as to the often irreversible damage to the environment (not to mention people) continued an out-dated 1950’s British forestry policy. In practice, this means covering vast swathes of ‘natural habitats’ – – bogs, mountains, wetlands – with pesticide laden, monoculture, exotic Sitka Spruce plantations.

Some idea of the recklessness Coillte have shown when it comes to pesticide use, came to light in a parliamentary debate in 2000, when it was learnt that they had ‘dumped’ ten tonnes of the carcinogenic, deadly pesticide, Lindane in its forests, after Lindane had already been banned, exposing hundreds of people, and countless wildlife, to its terrible effects. Lindane is named as one of the 12 deadliest chemicals by Pesticide Action Network (basing it’s “deadliness” on it’s chemical effects as well as the spectrum of use).

Recently Coillte have been under intense scrutiny for the near total destruction of formerly pristine rivers and lakes, now made toxic, acidic and heavily eutrophicated (?) by Coillte’s 450% over-use of rock phosphates, and endangering one of Ireland’s very few surviving indigenous pre Ice-Age species, the Freshwater Pearl Mussel, which is protected under EU legislation. Coillte have always been vociferous in their condemnation of native forests, and the planting of broadleaves. These, we have been told over and over again, are not economical. And are therefore not to be considered. In fact, whilst the national target for the planting of native broadleaves is 50% according to the Heritage Council. The draft Irish FSC standard stipulates a minimum 10% native broadleaves, but as as WoodMark was recently forced to admit, Coillte has so far only achieved 5.2%.

In 2001, Coillte were given the much-heralded FSC certificate by SGS. SGS used to a large degree the “2nd Draft standard” of the Irish National FSC Initiative when certifying Coillte. However, neither the IFCI Draft Number 2 nor the Soil Association Woodmark Generic Standard which was later used for the assessment of Coillte went to public consultation in Ireland. In fact, the standard that Coillte are certified to has never been through a consultation process in Ireland. Consultation is the core of the FSC process, both nationally and internationally. How can this have been allowed to happen?

In 2004, for reasons that were never apparent, Soil Association Woodmark took over from SGS as Coillte’s certifier. It was approximately nine months before NGOs in Ireland became aware of this fact. In the summer of 2006, the Soil Association re-certified Coillte as a ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ forestry company. The howls of despair from environmentalists at such a prestigious badge being handed to a company that uses so many pesticides, that has polluted countless water courses, rivers and lakes, that is adamantly stuck in an outdated, uneconomical and violently anti-environment set of policies, could be heard all over Ireland.

We might have hoped that the Soil Association’s involvement as the FSC certifier would have brought a more rigorous approach to Coillte’s certification, but we have again been disappointed. As an indication of just how far WoodMark seem to have departed from the very worthy founding principles of the Soil Association, it recently applied for a ‘derogation’ from FSC’s rules on the use of pesticides, which would allow the use of a pesticide called cypermetherin – which is classified as a Class II ‘moderately hazardous’ substance by the World Health Organisation – across Ireland. We believe that the only reason that WoodMark is aiming to conspire in the soaking of our beautiful country in pesticides is because Coillte’s intensive, exotic species-based form of industrial wood fibre production is dependent on the use of such pesticides, and WoodMark want to help them keep their FSC certificate at any cost.

These, and many other failings of Coillte against the FSC’s Principles and Requirements, have been documented by us , and sent to the certifier and the FSC. Most of these failings have been documented and known for at least 4 years. Our pleas have been met with obfuscation, delays, and outright lies. In response to our latest submission to the Soil Association, we have received a miserable response full of inconsistencies, contradictions and omissions.

We call on the Soil Association and FSC to immediately withdraw this abomination of a certificate, and we call on all environmentalists everywhere to help us in our struggle.

Irish Environmental and Social Stakeholders

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