Notes from Latvia

Notes from Latvia

Dec 14, 2023Marc Eglon

80% of Ireland was once covered in trees (Coillte).

Now it’s just 11%.

The EU as a whole is 39% (Eurostat).

And only 1% of native Irish woodland remains.

It's odd, because we once had a deep connection with our forests. Our ancient Ogham alphabet used tree as symbols - so they're deeply embedded in our culture. Now we’ve lost touch with our woodlands and with our own history.

And it’s why we source the majority of our firewood and briquettes from Latvia, which has 50% forest cover and a much more sustainable approach to managing the forests.

 

Thing is, these numbers don’t mean much here on a page or on a Eurostat graph. You really need to experience the forests first hand to get an idea of how it all works.

So in October, Janis and I visited Latvia. Janis grew up in there, so he already understood this model for sustainable forestry - it’s one of the reasons why he started Ecofuel in the first place.

But for me, it took this trip to really understand where our products come from.

It’s hard to articulate the rich abundance of the Latvian forests. There are literally trees everywhere you look. Leaving the outskirts of Riga, you notice the trees surrounding the homes and populating the verges between the junctions of the roads.

In Ireland, where you see grass, In Latvia, you see trees.

Trees stretch to the beaches

The trees stretch to the beaches

Once we left the capital city it was non-stop forest for the whole hour we drove. And nothing like the spruce plantations we have in Ireland. Yes, there is pine and spruce, but there’s also oak and alder and birch and ash and sycamore. It rich, diverse, and wild.

Emils, our film-maker, used his drone to fly above the canopy so we could see just how vast the forest reached to the horizon from where we stood.

After our 2 days amongst the trees, we drove back by the port of Riga, lined with yard after yard of timber products: rough logs, sawn planks, and mountains of wood chips. It shows a country that’s figured out that it’s possible to harvest huge amounts of wood from forests, while keeping the forests not only intact, but as dense productive ecosystems.

And talking with the suppliers we met there, there’s a sense of respect for the forests. Instead of seeing the forest as a commodity or resource to be used up, Latvia treats the wilderness with the reverence it deserves.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story, more the beginning…

We're not giving up on Ireland. Earlier this year we joined 1% for the Planet, as a way to work with environmental partners to help rewild Ireland and restore our own forests.

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