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technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

The Sitka Spruce and Ireland

keywords:

multispecies

ecology and environment

political ecology

The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is the dominant tree species used in Ireland’s plantation model. This model has increased Irish national forest cover from just under 1% at the beginning of the 20th century to its current 11% coverage. Even with diversity targets introduced over the last decades, Sitka spruce is by far the most dominant tree species in Irish plantations and has come to represent plantations as a whole by many landowners. As the state’s plantation model relies on private landowners (mostly small farmers) converting their fields into forests, and as under Irish law forests must remain so in perpetuity, the social-ecological relations between Sitka spruce and upland farmers have become particularly entwined. The spruce’s quick growth rate, tolerance for acidic soils, and capacity to self-seed into surrounding fields, combined with a planting regime that creates large swaths of dark and challenging to reach land, fundamentally changes the relationship between farmer and field in the uplands. However, as a cultural landscape, plantations are likewise entwined with other upland concerns, including species conservation through the Natura 2000 program in the form of Specially Protected Areas(SPA) where forests can be both a benefit and cause for concern. Based in North County Cork, Ireland, this paper will explore the sticky relations between farmer, tree, and field, as well as the political maneuverings that play on the creative discursive possibilities of plantation/forest as nature, industrial production, or permanent visitor on upland farms.

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