The Sunday Times and Friends of the Irish Environment (FOIE) have revealed that the Irish government and the state forestry company, Coillte are sitting on a ticking time bomb. It's been discovered that phosphorous and nitrate silt leaked into an Irish river, causing an algae bloom that asphyxiated most of the pearl mussels downstream. Pearl mussels are a protected species under European law, and Ireland has the largest remaining population. This has caused a moratorium on logging in areas near the species, and public exposure of just how much artificial fertiliser is used in growing Sitka spruce trees in bogland.

Many temperate countries grow non-native coniferous trees in their upland areas - Coillte manages some 445,000 hectares of land in Ireland - some 7% of the entire country. Of that, 352,000 hectares is actual forest. And a huge chunk of is upland, heath areas, where plantation conifers grow on blanket bogs. This practice acidifies soil, dumping large quantities phosphorous and nitrates into rivers. In an internal email released to FOIE under a European access to information law, a forest Service inspector stated that "you can’t grow commercial timber in uplands without fertiliser". The National Parks and wildlife service has found that in one area -at Cloosh forest in Galway, phosphorous levels in the water from fertilisation and clear felling were 40 times the accepted limit.

The Sunday Times (UK/Ireland): Mussel power leaves the trees standing »

FOIE: The fresh water pearl mussel: closing down the State’s forestry programme?

Extraordinary aerial photographs of the clearfelling allegedly linked to pearl mussel mortalities that has led to the current crisis and felling moratorium (pdf)

The Commission has sent a final written warning to Ireland over its non-conformity with the Habitats Directive. Issues raised include the failure to make proper provision for decision-making on land-use and other plans that affect Natura 2000 sites; weak provisions on enforcement where damage is caused to protected habitats through illegal actions; and lack of proper provision for ensuring that clearfelling (the process where every tree is taken in a logging operation) and replanting of commercial conifer forests does not adversely affect sensitive species such as the endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

EU Commission takes legal action to improve protection of birds and habitats and halt biodiversity loss in the EU »

Conservation management of the freshwater pearl mussel »