‘Trees for climate, not for profit’ — 150 campaigners pull up Sitka spruce on Coillte plantation

Direct action is ‘necessary and urgent’ when governments fail to act, say Climate Camp organisers

Local campaigners from Save Leitrim were joined by climate activists from across Ireland today (Sunday 13th August) as they pulled up Sitka spruce saplings from Coillte peatland and demanded, ‘Trees for climate, not for profit’. 

Straw Boys in traditional costumes were among 150 people who took part in the direct action targeting industrial conifer plantations and highlighting the need for radical change in Ireland’s forestry policy. 

The group, aged 5 to 75, used the uprooted saplings to block drains in the publicly-owned plantation near Manorhamilton, thereby beginning rewetting and restoration of the degraded peatland. They also planted native broadleaf trees on a nearby farm at the site of this year’s Climate Camp. 

The actions took place on the final day of the Climate Camp, a five-day “festival of resistance”, at which hundreds of people gathered to “learn from each other’s struggles and to demand climate solutions that prioritise communities, not shareholders”. 

Save Leitrim, one of the groups that organised the Climate Camp, campaigns against the expansion of industrial conifer plantations by Coillte and by corporate and private investors that are damaging communities, farming, the environment, water, soils and biodiversity.  

Brian Smyth of Save Leitrim said: 

“The bog from which people pulled up the Sitka saplings today would sequester and store more carbon than those sitka spruce trees ever would.[1] Planting Sitka spruce in peatland is a disaster for both climate and biodiversity – especially when the trees are clear-felled. 

“We want climate action, we want tree-planting, but we urgently need a shift away from the focus on timber production towards native natural woodlands of broadleaf trees.

“Coillte has lost our trust. We’ve been campaigning for years but the Government hasn’t listened. Today’s action is a call to further action. 

“There must be community ownership and input to planning and managing these woodlands and they must be fairly spread across Ireland for a just transition.”

More than 230,000 hectares of peatland in the Republic of Ireland is planted with Sitka Spruce. 

Only 11% of Ireland is covered by forest, compared to a European average of approximately 35%. The vast majority (9% of the country) is under industrial conifer plantations. Less than 2% of Ireland is covered with native broadleaf trees.[2]

Sian Cowman of Slí Eile, the main organising group behind the Climate Camp, said: 

“Direct action is an example of communities empowering themselves. Direct action is also necessary and urgent in a situation where governments, including in Ireland, are not taking the climate and biodiversity emergency seriously.”

“The Climate Camp was an inspiring five days during which climate activists and community campaigners gathered to build a radical climate movement on the island of Ireland. 

“We stand against destruction of community, the exploitation of land and the politics of hate. We say No to a ruthless capitalist model of never-ending growth and profit that is the main driving force behind the climate crisis. We stand for communities, not shareholders.” 

Brian Smyth of Save Leitrim continued: 

“We demand an end to planting and replanting on peatland and an end to clear-felling. We also demand reform of the 1988 Forestry Act and Coillte’s mandate to include the removal of the sole profit motive and the introduction of a climate and biodiversity remit, with required community engagement.”

Earlier this year the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity recommended a review of Coillte’s role, over a “conflict of interest” between “business aims and corporate responsibility”, and called for the legislation underpinning Coillte to be reassessed to ensure biodiversity protection was at the core of its aims.[3]

The Climate Camp came to a close on Sunday afternoon with a ceremony at which participants planted oak and other native broadleaf trees on one of the farms that hosted the Camp in Pollboy, close to Manorhamilton. 

Straw boys are groups of mischievous disrupters who gatecrash weddings, their identities camouflaged by conical straw hats. 

The Camp was organised by Slí Eile, an anti-capitalist climate action group, in collaboration with several local campaigns, including Save Leitrim, which campaigns against the expansion of industrial conifer plantations, Treasure Leitrim, which campaigns against gold mining and Love Leitrim which continues to work on the threat of fracking, particularly in Northern Ireland.


  1. Planting trees in peatland emits more carbon than it sequesters: https://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/sites/default/files/header-images/Resources/IUCN%20UK%20PP%20Peatlands%20and%20trees%20position%20statement%202020.pdf

  2. https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/articles/2023/ireland-has-lost-almost-all-of-its-native-forests–heres-how-to-bring-them-back/

  3. https://www.irishtimes.com/environment/climate-crisis/2023/04/05/citizens-assembly-on-biodiversity-loss-calls-for-switch-to-more-plant-based-diet/