Forests are a stabilising force for the climate. They regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and supply goods and services that can drive sustainable growth. They are one of the most important solutions to addressing the effects of climate change. Approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels) is absorbed by forests every year. Estimates show that nearly two billion hectares of degraded land across the world – an area the size of South America – offer opportunities for restoration. Increasing and maintaining forests is therefore an essential solution to climate change. Halting the loss and degradation of forest ecosystems and promoting their restoration have the potential to contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation that scientists say is required by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
In addition to creating and maintaining protected areas and launching initiatives towards more sustainable management, many countries, subnational governments, private landowners and businesses are restoring degraded and deforested land. This helps to take pressure off healthy, intact forests and reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The VyraForest is an ambitious ecology project set upon 25 acres in Wicklow, Ireland that allows Vyra to play its part in Climate Action. It is a relatively small amount of land compared to the larger expanses of deforested rainforest in South America, but it enables Vyra and those who use the Vyra platform to take ownership of a small part of the global problem of Climate Change.
The key aims of VyraForest are quite simple: to restore native woodland; to enhance biodiversity; to sequester carbon; and to re-establish the connection between society and the natural world. However, each of these aims involves an intricate web of sub-goals and targets, all of which make themselves known at some stage of the project. Restoring native woodland sounds relatively straight forward, but there is a deep reservoir of ecological constraints that determine the path of any forest. What is the quality of the existing land? What can be planted and when? What native species are suited to the conditions? All of these questions, and more, arise sooner rather than later and demand expert opinion and detailed knowledge of both the history and the lay of the land. So, the first few steps of the VyraForest seek to answer some of these questions.
Perhaps the most important factor in the development of the VyraForest is the acceptance that external guidance and expertise is needed to fulfil the potential of the project. We began assembling a team of experts at the start of 2021 to help us maximise the potential of this 25 acre plot – we like to envision the VyraForest as a mini temperate forest in the future. With this in mind, Vyra signed up as a business supporter of the All Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP) in January 2021. By doing this, Vyra is showing commitment to enhancing biodiversity of the area and were also able to avail of the fantastic resources provided by the AIPP. One such project-defining action recommended by the AIPP was the promotion of ecological buffer zones. Ecological buffer zones are necessary to minimize the impacts of an adjacent land use. In the case of the VyraForest, the North-Western boundary is adjacent to a busy commuter belt, while the west is adjacent to agricultural land. Vyra felt it was crucial to begin planting a mixture of native broadleaf trees, such as Ash, Rowan and Silver Birch and Willow in order to mitigate the potential adverse environmental effects of commuter emissions and fertiliser application. In addition to reducing development impacts to water quality, ecological buffers have also been shown to provide habitat and movement corridors for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, as well as protect areas important to breeding, rearing and hibernation. The addition of the ecological buffer zone on the perimeter of the VyraForest was one of the first steps in a series of exciting ecological endeavours set to take place in the near future that will encompass not only restoration of the natural world, but will also sequester carbon along the way.
As well as reaching out to support the AIPP, Vyra has also aligned with something equally ambitious on a global level, four key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production; 13 – Climate Action; 14 – Life Below Water; 15 – Life on Land. You can read more about our alignment to these key SDGs here, but they all line up with our overall vision for the VyraForest, which is to leave the natural world in a better state than when we found it, ensuring that future generations can avail of the same (if not better) quality of life we experienced growing up. The SDG’s are one of many ways in which users of the Vyra platform can play an active part in the development of the forest itself and also in the wider context of collaboration to achieve sustainable development.
One of the most important aspects of the VyraForest is to involve users of the Vyra platform by enabling them to contribute to something much grander than a one-time carbon offset, that in some cases is paid for, heard of once and never seen again. Why is it much grander? Teams that use Vyra save a measurable amount of C02 emissions through their actions. They then get to see the CO2 emissions they saved matched with real trees planted in the VyraForest. Vyra uses gamification to make saving the planet fun for businesses and more importantly it gives ownership in the climate change discussion to people who otherwise may not have had the resources.