The development of national forest policy in Ireland is the responsibility of the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). Until the 1990s official forest policy was not published and made available to the public but rather remained an internal matter for the Department. Forest policy was largely governed by the views and actions of the senior staff of the Department rather than through a process of informed discussion and consultation with stakeholders. Openness in government, however, encouraged greater dialogue with the public and in 1996 a strategic plan for forestry titled “Growing for the Future” was published. This plan, for the first time, comprehensively expressed official forest policy in a public document and was the principal statement of forestry policy in Ireland. It was replaced by a revised policy document “Forests, Products and People – Ireland’s forest policy, a renewed vision”. published in 2014. For further information on forest policy click here
NATIONAL STRATEGIC PLAN
Growing for the Future
A strategic plan for the development of the forestry sector in Ireland was published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in 1996 titled Growing for the Future . The plan which was the first of its kind reflected the multi-faceted nature of the modern forestry sector. With extensive input from a broad cross-section of interests the plan set out a framework for the development of the forestry sector, to deliver not only a sustainable specified timber supply but also generate a wide range of complementary economic, environmental and social benefits. The plan also identified policy considerations on various topics and made clear statements on policy as well as strategic actions to implement policy.
Since the publication of Growing for the Future many new issues have emerged such as sustainable forest management, climate change, carbon sequestration, wood energy etc. that have important policy implications for forestry. While DAFM developed responses to these issues as they arose and incorporated them into the National Forestry Development Programme and other initiatives, the statement of official forest policy remained out of date for many years.
Forests, Products and People
In 2009 the government published a Renewed Programme for Government in which it undertook to review state forestry policy to take account of its critical role in relation to climate change and its importance to construction, bio-energy, bio-diversity and its potential to deliver long-term employment in other downstream industries e.g. eco-tourism, furniture, crafts etc. The review also included the role of Coillte and its functions and operations and the effectiveness of the current forestry grant schemes.
A National Forest Policy Review Group was established in 2010 with a broad representation from the forestry sector and its stakeholders to undertake the review. Input from the industry, stakeholders and the general public was sought through a consultation process and a revised forest policy document Forests, products and people – Ireland’s forest policy – a renewed vision was published in 2014.
Irish forest policy has been the subject of much controversy since the mid 1980s. At that time environmental groups were very critical of the way forestry was being practiced which was focused on intensive commercial timber production, almost to the exclusion of other forest values such biodiversity, landscape water protection etc. Concerns were raised about the conifer monoculture that was being created, particularly the reliance on one species, Sitka spruce, which formed over 80% of the annual planting programme, while native broadleaves constituted only 1-2%.
Environmental impacts were also of concern such as the clearfelling of large areas of forest which can have a significant impact on the visual appearance of the landscape as well as the removal of wildlife habitat; also the planting of the peatlands in the west of Ireland which contain unique habitats that are of international importance for landscape, plants and freshwater fish (salmonids). Fishery boards were particularly concerned about the acidifying effects of conifer plantations, the aerial application of fertilisers and the impacts of nutrients and silt runoff from forestry operations, issues that affect the water quality of streams, rivers and lakes.
However, with the introduction of Sustainable Forest Management much has changed in the way forests are managed today. The protection of the environment is now one of the key priorities of forest policy and is enshrined in the official Code of Best Forest Practice and Forest Service Guidelines as well as in the voluntary forest certification scheme standards of the FSC and PEFC.
Today, there is a greater appreciation of benefits that forests provide to society in terms of economic, environmental and social values. With a greater awareness of the issues and improved consultation practices there is now an opportunity for stakeholders to have a greater input into forest policy than in the past. Environmental organisations, however, continue to be critical of forest policy, particularly in relation to the State forests managed by Coillte. Some of their views can be seen at:
Submissions made to the National Forest Policy Review Group also reflect current stakeholder views of forest policy and can be accessed at : Stakeholder submissions
While there are many international and domestic influences that have helped to shape Irish forest policy there are a number of key reports that have informed its development in recent years. These reports, compiled by authoritative sources on various aspects of forestry, have provided important information for the development of forest policy. Presented here are a number of key national reports that have been published within the last 10 years.
Bacon Report 2003
In June 2003 the forest sector commissioned Peter Bacon & Associates, economic consultants, to make an independent strategic appraisal of the socio-economic benefits of State investment in forestry. The appraisal was prompted by the sudden and drastic reduction (27%) that year in public expenditure allocation to forestry which was considered to have been made without a full understanding of the benefits that accrue from State investment in forestry. The report titled “Forestry: a growth industry in Ireland” identifies key benefits which accrue from this expenditure including employment in rural areas, growing a renewable resource, creating a carbon sink, amenity and leisure benefits and places a monetary value on these and on the full costs that must be met by the State to realise these benefits. The cost-benefit analysis (CBA) shows that State investment in forestry gives a benefit:cost ratio of 1.59. This return compares favourably with many other capital investments of the State. The report which was prepared by one of the country’s leading economists has important implications for the development of forest policy.
BioForest Report 2007
This is the final report of the BIOFOREST project on forest biodiversity which was jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD). This was a large-scale project which ran from 2001 to 2006 with the aim of providing much-needed basic information on biodiversity in Irish plantation forests. The focus of the research was to illustrate the effects of different aspects of management on biodiversity within forests, from the planning stage through to the mature forest. The research had an applied orientation and objectives to feed directly into the updating of forest policy and practice documents.
Heritage Council Report 2007
This report reviewed the Heritage Council forest policy with regard to a wide range of forest related issues. Six major themes were considered – multifunctional forestry, forest strategy, management of forests, making forests sustainable for owners, legislation and authorities, and training and research.
The review was carried out by a team of six foresters and ecologists who collated and analysed published, grey, and oral information relevant to forest management in Ireland. The emphasis was on science based knowledge, but also drew on the collective experience of the team working in the forestry sector. Submissions were sought from all interested parties.
The main recommendations are – a new strategic plan based on multifunctional forestry, expansion of the forest estate especially with broadleaves and native woodland, a new economic valuation system that values ecological, social and economic functions of forests, action on invasive alien species, silvicultural systems to cope with climate change, and the retention of state forests in public ownership.
Malone Report – 2008
This report titled “Factors Affecting Afforestation in Ireland in Recent Years” was prepared in 2008 by Mr John Malone, former Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with responsibility for Forestry.
The report aimed at identifying issues and actions to enhance Government support for forestry planting and to make recommendations to increase annual afforestation rates to at least 10,000 hectares by 2010, without any further increase in forestry or other rural development aid rates.
The Report recognises the competing demands of the different types of land use including forestry in Ireland and the increasing importance of forestry in developing sustainable economic, energy, environmental and climate change policies for the country into the future. Renewed promotion of this important asset and having flexible support schemes as attractive as possible relative to other options is emphasised. It outlines eleven common issues that are impacting on the afforestation targets and makes eighteen recommendations to resolve these issues.
Other influences on forest policy include international agreements that Ireland has signed up to and EU legislation. See pages on Legislation for a list of agreements, directives etc.