Forestry Focus

Forest Planning

Forestry, once established, generally becomes a permanent feature of the landscape and being a long term enterprise it is subject to a wide range of influences. Planning is therefore one of the most important tasks a forester must undertake in managing a forest. As trees and forest stands take decades to mature careful consideration must be given to decisions during the planning process as the consequences can last for many years. All forests from small woodlands to substantial forest areas – require some level of planning in order to anticipate and manage operational, production and environmental and social policies and objectives.

Forest planning in Ireland falls into four broad categories:

NATIONAL PLANS – National forest planning is undertaken under governmental and sectoral policies and strategies. In Ireland, national forest strategy is expressed in detail in Growing for the Future: A Strategic Plan for the Development of the Forestry Sector in Ireland published by the Forest Service.


  • Coillte’s BAU Strategic Plans – strategic plans outlining how company policies and objectives will be implemented in Coillte’s 8 Business Area Units. Plans address a wide range of economic, environmental and social issues that affect the forests in the districts and include details of how forests will be expanded and restructured, how the mix of species in the districts will change over time, how nature will be conserved and recreational facilities provided, among other issues. For further details click here
  • County Development Plans – development plans for all 26 counties in which forestry is included in regional indicative strategies. These involve issues which impact on forestry, such as country roads, planning considerations, water and landscape. See Co. Wicklow Development Plan as an example.

 FOREST PLANS – management plans for individual forests which are appropriate to the size and scale of the forest area. Forest Service requires management plans for areas greater than 10ha for grant aid purposes. Forest plans are local plans which can include:

  • ownership details;
  • maps indicating property and management units, site and stand details, and special features such as biodiversity areas, archaeology, water courses etc;
  • inventory information from which forecasts can be made;
  • records (activities, materials, costs) of past operations;
  • schedules of further operations – harvesting and restocking of stands etc.
  • An example of a  management plan for a large forest can be seen for Coillte’s  Forth Forest in Co. Wexford.

 OPERATIONAL PLANS – detailed site specific plans for the various forest operations such as establishment, road construction and harvesting. Mitigation of any identified environmental or social impacts is also outlined in these plans.


In developing forest plans the forest planner is faced with different issues depending on the stage of development of the forest. These can be divided into three broad categories –issues that affect new forests, issues that affect established forests and cross-cutting issues that affect both stages. Some examples are as follows:

New forests

  • Site suitability – soil fertility and drainage, exposure and slope.
  • Location – access, roading, mapping features.
  • Size of proposed forest area – EIAs for areas over 70ha
  • Species selection – matching species to sites
  • Environmental impact – impact on the landscape, archaeology, water courses, nature conservation areas (SACs NHAs, SPAs etc), infrastructure, people

Established forests

  •  Inventory and forecasting– determining the timber volume of the growing stock for production forecasts and sales.
  • Harvesting – planning for harvesting schedules, felling coupe sizes, machine suitability, extraction routes, road density and design
  • Re-design – redesigning existing forests to make them more sustainable for biodiversity, landscape, water protection, recreation
  • Restocking – replacement species following clearfelling
  • Certification – ensuring that policies and management plans and operations are compliant with the standards of the certification scheme (e.g. FSC or PEFC).

Cross-cutting Issues

  • Silvicultural systems – clearfell or continuous cover
  • Maintenance – drainage, tending, pruning
  • Protection – fire, windthrow, diseases, trespass
  • Access – rights of way, public access
  • Security – theft, illegal dumping, encroachment
  • Impacts of forestry operations on people and wildlife habitats – noise, traffic disturbances, loss of views
  • Consultation with statutory bodies and other stakeholders on proposed plans.


Forest planning is a complex process as there are many different, often conflicting issues that need to be addressed. Finding optimums solutions has become increasingly more difficult with the practice of Sustainable Forest Management and all the requirements of environmental legislation and forest certification. It is now reaching the stage, particularly with larger forests, where it is getting beyond human capacity to find these solutions among the multiple datasets that the forest planner must consider. Computer software, however, is being developed that will greatly help the forester in arriving at decisions that will meet the needs and aspirations of the forest owners and stakeholders alike.


GIS map with forest management units (courtesy of Coillte)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Irish forestry has increased rapidly in recent years. With appropriate software, forest maps can be associated with data sets relating to the particular area, e.g. crop composition, site details, operations completed or to be undertaken, ownership and financial information. Maps can also be overlaid with other existing information, such as roads, fisheries, catchments, areas of scientific and conservation interest, archaeological sites, etc., to identify opportunities and constraints.

The Indicative Forest Statement (IFS) developed by the Forest Service is an example of such a GIS based system. It provides high-level, national guidance in relation to the suitability of land for afforestation and facilitates the establishment of high quality forests serving a variety of purposes. The IFS identifies areas most suitable for planting primarily on the basis of environmental considerations and soil-productivity. Further information at: Indicative Forest Statement

Planning software

REMSOFT – Coillte is currently introducing the REMSOFT spatial planning system to incorporate sustainability planning, conservation, harvesting and other variables into a holistic analysis of their forest estate. The system will help to manage a complex set of assets, requirements and demands, and uses spatial data, growth and yield data and policy and procedure information as inputs. The software creates a long-term sustainable management schedule for wood supply, habitat, biodiversity, watershed management and other forest values that can be viewed in tabular and graphical format or on a range of maps. The use of such a system is particularly appropriate for a forest estate as large and complex as Coillte’s. Being a state forestry company Coillte’s stakeholders expect it to provide a timber supply for industry, but also, deliver all the other forest values that state forests provide such biodiversity, recreation, water protection etc. Developing forest management plans that will meet these expectations is a constant challenge for forest planners and an objective, scientific, and transparent system is an important tool for developing plans that will optimise the resource for all.

Further information at : Remsoft and Coillte video clip

PractiSFM – is a multi-resource inventory protocol and decision support system that has been developed by UCD Forestry Department for use in private forests. Practicing SFM and its verification through forest certification requires forest owners and managers to expand their data collection methods beyond the timber resource to include an inventory of special features such as wildlife habitats, water courses, cultural features, public access routes, etc. This software provides a means of capturing and analyzing these data. The protocol is currently being further developed to include an optimisation component to provide a wider range of management options that move towards flexible, user-defined management strategies.


UCD Forestry Department is currently leading the PLANSFM Forest Planning and Management Programme funded under the COFORD programme. This programme comprises a series of projects aimed at supporting the forest industry by improved planning and management tools to help in the implementation of sustainable forest management.

Further information at :  PLANSFM