Forestry and the Environment
Ireland has the most favourable climate for growing trees in the
EU, yet has one of the lowest proportions of tree cover. The
country is also reliant to a very significant extent on imports to
satisfy domestic demand for wood products. For these and other
reasons the Irish forestry sector has changed considerably in the
past 15 years, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable
The strategic plan for the Irish forestry sector sets a national afforestation
target of 20,000 hectares per annum to the year 2030. If the strategy’s
target is achieved it will mean that 1% of the total land area of Ireland will
be afforested every three years. Such a large change will have a
significant impact on the countryside and it is important that afforestation
policy capitalise on the positive environmental benefits of forestry.
Forestry plantations and other vegetation sequester carbon. Under the
Kyoto Protocol, sequestration of carbon by new forestry may be counted
towards meeting Ireland’s net greenhouse gas emissions growth limitation
target. The increased forest coverage will help reduce our net emission of
greenhouse gases and contribute towards achieving compliance with our
In the past forest policies favoured commercial planting of fast-growing,
coniferous species, such as Sitka Spruce. However, uniform, monoculture
plantations of coniferous trees can be of limited biological diversity value.
Greater benefits in terms of landscape, amenity, heritage and habitats can
be realised from forestry plantations that also include native, and broadleaf
The interaction of forestry plantations and certain pollutants in the
atmosphere (e.g. sulphur dioxide) can change the chemical composition of
rain, as it falls through the forest canopy, which in turn can lead to the
acidification of surface waters. Certain water bodies in the west of Ireland
and Wicklow are susceptible to this process of acidification, which is
harmful to aquatic ecosystems.
Forestry activities can lead to the eutrophication of rivers and lakes.
Fertilising plantations established on soils with poor capacity to hold
phosphorus, or erosion due to soil disturbance subsequent to planting or
clear-felling, may lead to the nutrient enrichment of run-off waters.
Most forestry activities create some degree of soil disturbance. Where that
disturbance is substantial soil is transported by surface water run-off into
streams and rivers where it can damage aquatic wildlife (e.g. fish and
VIEWPOINT invertebrates) and habitats (e.g. spawning beds).
Environmental Protection Agency’s Role
While the EPA has no direct role in regulating forestry activities, it has identified acid-
sensitive areas nationally, and in collaboration with the Forest Service agreed a protocol
for forest management in such areas. The EPA’s reports on ‘Water Quality in Ireland’
identify acid sensitive catchments and also indicate that forestry operations are
suspected as the cause of pollution in a number of locations.
The EPA has funded research projects to determine best forestry management practices
for prevention and amelioration of impacts of forestry operations on the acidification of
aquatic systems, as well as research determining forestry’s impact on phosphorus levels
The Forest Service
The Forest Service is responsible for the sustainable development of forestry within
Ireland, seeking to increase quality planting and promote the planting of diverse species.
Through the promotion of research and training it hopes to improve performance,
compatible with the environment, and encourage increased employment in the sector.
Sustainable Forestry Management is supported by the Irish National Forest Standard,
The Code of Best Forest Practice, and a range of environmental and forestry guidelines
relating to water quality, landscape, archaeology, biodiversity, harvesting, fertilisation
and forest protection.
The Forest Service works in partnership with Local Authorities to identify suitable areas
for forestry, through a development process of Indicative Forest Strategies. The Forest
Service operates under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture and Food.
COFORD - The National Council for Forest Research &
COFORD coordinates and funds research relating to the industrial, social, environmental
and cultural aspects of forestry. COFORD is also involved in the dissemination of forest
research findings, and it advises the Minister for Agriculture and Food on programmes of
research and for the sustainable development of the forest industry.
1. Given the proposed expansion of forestry over the next quarter century, it
is imperative that legislation, guidelines and methods of best forest practice
are enforced to ensure that sustainable forestry management is being
ENVIRONMENT 2. It is also imperative that legislation and guidelines be kept under review to
PAGE 3 ensure that forestry regulatory mechanisms are appropriate to evolving
circumstances, and ensure that forestry developments enhance the
environment (landscapes, biodiversity, habitats, ecosystems).
3. Greater attention should be paid to achieving the 30% broadleaf planting
target. In addition, broadleaf forestry planting targets should be managed
at a regional rather than plantation level, thus creating a critical mass of
broadleaf plantations for achieving environmental and biodiversity benefits.
4. Forestry managers and owners should take on board biodiversity and
general environmental considerations over the full forestry cycle from
ground preparation to harvesting.
Total forest cover in Ireland is approximately 700,000 hectares or 10% of
the surface area.
Over 14,000 farmers are engaged in forestry with the number expected to
increase to approximately 20,000 by 2007.
The annual volume of timber produced from Irish forests is around 3 million
cubic metres and projected to increase to over 8 million cubic metres by
The supply of timber from private forestry is expected to rise steadily to
over 1 million cubic metres by the year 2015, accounting for 20% of the
total potential roundwood supply.
The forest sector’s product mix is also anticipated to change with sawlog
production increasing significantly with a corresponding drop in production
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